A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

6 tips for unlocking muscle tightness

Woman waking up with a stiff neck - Muscle tightness

The neck and shoulders are common problem areas for muscle tightness.

If you’re sitting down as you read this, you might be a candidate for muscle tightness.

Staying in the same position for a prolonged time, like sitting at a desk during work, can cause muscles to tighten. People who only do one form of exercise also may be at risk for muscle tightness because they are continually tightening the same muscles.

“Muscles are made of individual fibers, and they have an elastic quality,” said Donna Fetting, a physical therapist at Marshfield Clinic. “If we’re doing an activity where those fibers are shortened or contracted for a long period of time, our muscles are going to remember that position.”

Muscles can develop taut bands or trigger points, often from a strenuous or repetitive activity. This may explain why some people who have good flexibility still feel tightness.

Pain level may depend on environmental factors

The degree of pain felt from muscle tightness is different for everyone, Fetting said.

“Everybody has their own pain perception,” she said. “Pain also can be very dependent on what else is going on in your life.”

For instance, people under high levels of stress may feel muscle tightness more intensely than those not under stress. Common problem areas for muscle tightness are the neck and shoulders, hamstrings and the low back.

Treating tightness

Fetting recommends stretching before and after exercise to loosen muscles.

“A lot of people have the misconception that when you exercise, you’re using those muscles, so you’re making them flexible,” Fetting said. “In reality, when you exercise you’re contracting the muscles repetitively, and that actually tightens them.”

If you’re a worker who sits at a desk all day, Fetting recommends:

  • Setting an alarm that reminds you to get up and walk around every 30 minutes
  • Checking to see that you have good posture each time you get an email

For good sitting posture:

  • Position your hips and knees flexed at 90 degrees with your feet on the floor.
  • Use a lumbar pillow for low back support.
  • Rest your forearms on your arm rests or desk.
  • Position your ears over your shoulders.

In addition to stretching and specific exercises, physical therapy treatment for muscle tightness may include postural education, dry needling, ultrasound and electrical stimulation.

6 Comments
  1. Mar 26, 2017
  2. Mar 26, 2017
    • Kirsten Shakal, Shine365 Editor Mar 27, 2017
  3. Mar 23, 2017

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