A common question we get as sports chiropractors is "How do I get rid of this tight muscle?"
Often times stretching can be enough to correct mild and intermittent muscle tightness, but what should you do when it just keeps coming back?
1. Self Myofascial Release
A fancy term that is used to describe treating your muscles and fascia with a tool such as a foam roller, lacrosse ball, tennis ball, or even a rolling pin.
SMR is often best used in a funnel method where you start rolling out as large of an area as possible, like the leg, and work down to where you find the highest concentration of tight and tender muscles, like the quads or calves, and then spend time in each individual muscle knot.
We recommend spending no more than 30-60s at a time on a tight and tender muscle knot, you can always come back to it later but sitting with a lacrosse ball in your piriformis for several minutes is a surefire way to get a bruised piriformis.
This can be used both reactively, when you already have tight and tender muscles, and proactively, at the end of every workout to help keep you more mobile and reduce the risk of trigger points forming
2. Vibration Therapy
A treatment method that has taken over weight rooms and recovery rooms every where, and for good reason. If you were paying close attention the other night you may have even seen the athletes in this years Super Bowl making use of the HyperVolt percussive massage tools.
Massage guns are fantastic for temporarily lengthening and relaxing tight muscles, however the results are only temporary. The real benefit and sustainable change comes from using those newly lengthened and relaxed muscles through their full range of motion.
Our recommendation? Use the massage gun for 60-90 seconds per region before exercising. If you’re using it after exercise, pair the vibration therapy with some gently loaded movements such as body weight squats or scapular YTWLs.
If you’re looking to get your hands on a HyperVolt, or any piece of recovery tech, don’t forget to check with us before you buy. As a HyperIce partner we can offer some of the best pricing on recovery technology.
Muscle tightness can be, and often is, caused by weakness in the muscle, in the muscles around it, or the muscles opposite of it. If you’re finding that no matter how much you stretch, heat, and foam roll a muscle it just bounces right back to being tight then you likely can benefit from some form of strengthening.
In general we see isometric or eccentric-dominant exercise loads can be the most efficient ways to strengthen the chronically tight muscles. On the other hand, antagonistic muscles seem to benefit from a traditional concentric-eccentric cycle with sets and reps. Where synergists are an effective meld of both and develop most efficiently with moderate volume sets and reps but a focus on isometric and eccentric load.
Understanding which muscles should be strengthened around a chronically tight muscle and how best to strengthen them should be determined with the help of a qualified healthcare professional, but here are some common examples that we see in our office:
- You have tight upper traps, strengthen the upper traps, but also:
- Strengthen the middle and lower trap, serratus anterior, and lat dorsi
- Strengthen pec major, rhomboids, and infraspinatus
- You have tight hip flexors, strengthen the hip flexors, but also:
- Strengthen the core, quads, and hip flexors
- Strengthen the glutes
- You have tight calves, strengthen the calves, but also:
- Strengthen the small muscles of the feet and the peroneals
- Strengthen your shin muscles
- Make sure you are working and stretching both the gastrocnemius and the soleus muscles
4. Heat Therapy
If you’ve been to a doctor of any kind for muscle pains in the past decade you’ve likely been prescribed some combination of heat, ice, anti-inflammatory medications, and rest. While there’s a time and place for anti-inflammatory medications and rest, the research is very clear that when it comes to tight and sore muscles there is little to no long term benefit from cold therapies [1-3]. We could make a whole blog post about when cold therapy is not appropriate, but is still used, but we’ll keep the focus on improving tight muscles.
There are two types of heat therapy, dry and moist:
- Dry heat is also known as conductive heat which includes tools like heat wraps and saunas.
- Moist heat is also known as convective heat and includes moist heat packs, hot baths, or any sort of submersion in warm liquids.
If you’re curious about which is better for you personally, schedule a recovery session with Prime Sports Institute to experience both the hot contrast tub and the infrared sauna!
At the risk of sounding like a broken record on our blogs, on our social media, and in our office: drink more water.
Tight muscles are very common when you’re dehydrated, from a physiologic standpoint our bodies will always prioritize the functions of the brain, heart, and lungs first. If you are taxing your neuromuscular system regularly but not replenishing the fluids as necessary then you’re likely going to end up with dehydrated, tight, and tender muscles.
Much of the treatment that we provide is done with the goal of improving blood flow. Cupping, IASTM, Laser Therapy, Corrective Exercises, and even Chiropractic Adjustments all work to improve your body’s blood flow to varying degrees. However, if your blood is flowing slow and thick, like maple syrup, then your body isn’t going to reap the maximum benefits of the therapy.
6. Reach out to your local sports chiropractors
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, stretching, foam rolling, vibration, strengthening, and hydration aren’t enough to bust up your tight muscles. If that’s the case, reach out to us and we will work with you to develop a treatment plan to knock out those tight muscles, fast, and keep them from coming back!
You should know: The information above provides general health information that is not intended to replace medical advice or treatment recommendations from a qualified healthcare professional.
- Alaca N, Kablan N. Acute Effects of Cold Pack for Different Periods on the Biomechanical Properties of the Rectus Femoris Muscle. Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine. 2021;27(5):92-99.
- Lima C, Medeiros D, Prado L, et al. Local cryotherapy is ineffective in accelerating recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage on biceps brachii. Sport Sciences for Health. 2017;13(2):287-293.
- Lorete CJ, Fontaine RN, Welsch LA, Hoch JM. The Effects of Cold Water Immersion on Postexercise Muscle Soreness and Fatigue. International Journal of Athletic Therapy & Training. 2016;21(2):4-11.