Tid Bits of Info
- Rounded shoulder/forward head posture can lead to trigger points and pain in the upper back muscles. Strengthening these muscles is more important than stretching them.
- The ideal and optimal condition of a muscle is a well-toned muscle that is flexible and strong.
- Tight or taut musculature utilizes more energy through the day and can cause fatigue and pain
- Optimal length-tension of a muscle enables it to produce the most force with the least amount of energy expenditure.
- Seek the advice and treatment of a Physical Therapist to develop a proper exercise routine that will help to develop well-toned musculature
Healthy muscle quality improves your quality of life, but many people have tight or taut muscles instead of toned muscles. Your muscles should only be firm when you use them, otherwise, they should be loose. Toned, loose muscles perform more efficiently when needed and also work more effectively in conjunction with other muscles. Unfortunately, many people do not maintain proper quality muscles and begin to experience pain, loss of strength and eventually a reduction in functional capability.
Muscles work in pairs and rely on the nervous system. There must be a balance of strength between both muscles surrounding a specific joint. This allows the muscles or groups of muscles to work in opposition in most instances. For example, if the elbow is to bend with control, the biceps has to contract on the front of the elbow and the triceps muscles have to relax or contract eccentrically to help control the quality of motion. If both groups contract with equal force there will be no motion which is an isometric contraction. Unfortunately, many muscles or groups of muscles are not opposed equally or with the correct force. The imbalance in force adds undue stress and strain to one or both of the groups. When muscles are at their optimal length, they generate force efficiently. The musculature will attempt to return to the optimal length-tension relationship to ensure proper function.
Muscles can be in “perfect” shape which refers to the proper amount of strength, flexibility and neuromuscular communication. The flexibility leads to a relaxed state with no abnormal stress or strain. If the muscle remains in this state, it is considered to be a well-toned muscle. Having well-toned muscles should be everyone’s desire. Although a well-toned muscle often “looks good,” the real importance is its ability to function pain-free and at a very efficient rate. The energy needed to make this type of muscle “work” well is minimal compared to other types of muscle conditions.
Muscles that are considered “tight” have lost their ability to relax. They are usually muscles that are in a shortened position for most of the time. The postures that most people assume throughout the day put certain muscles in a shortened position. If you know someone who sits all day long while at work they most likely have very tight hip flexor muscles and the inner thigh muscles, adductors, are usually very tight, also. Anyone who sits in front of a computer and does not have good posture will usually assume a rounded shoulder/forward head posture. The chest wall, anterior shoulder, neck, and some arm muscles are shortened during almost every activity. Consequently, these muscles cannot relax regardless of the neurological signal that is sent to them and the length-tension relationship is not maintained at the optimal position. The muscle adapts to the shortened position and the neurological input is altered drastically. If the muscle is chronically shortened, it can change the shape of a joint over time.
Remember that earlier it was written that muscles work in pairs. When one contracts or shortens, the other muscle relaxes and lengthens. If one is chronically shortened, the other muscle or group is chronically lengthened. Unfortunately, the lengthened muscle mass continues to attempt to return to the optimal length tension position and is constantly in a contractile state. This leads to very taut muscles similar to a rubber band that is stretched out. The more you pull on the rubber band the “tauter” it gets! A very taut muscle will fatigue and lead to muscle pain. In many instances, the fatigue is noted by trigger points in the muscle. These are areas of the muscle cells that are damaged and remain in a contracted state.
Many healthcare professionals have made the treatment decision to stretch any muscle mass that presents to them in a state that is painful, trigger points are present and there is limited motion. The taut muscle does not have to be stretched. The taut muscle needs to have an increase in blood flow and develop strength that will help it overcome the pull from the opposite side of the joint. If the taut muscle is engaged and actively contracted, there is an inhibitory neural signal transmitted to the other side (tight side) that limits its contractile capability.
If you have “always had poor flexibility” and you have attempted to stretch all of the muscles that seem to be “tight,” you might want to make a visit to a Physical Therapist. These licensed professionals will evaluate you and assess the results to develop an individualized treatment protocol for you. They can look at your posture, assess what activities you commonly perform and decide if they are treating “tight” or “taut” muscles. They will assist you with your stretching with specialized manual techniques and they can develop a strengthening program that will engage the taut muscles. Ultimately, every muscle must attempt to return to the optimal length tension position.
Toned muscles can be produced by performing a consistent exercise program, maintaining proper posture and modifying your activity level to avoid performing the same routine every day. A Physical Therapist can help you achieve the optimal muscular condition.