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Why Muscle Stiffness Isn’t Always Bad (and How to Tell the Difference)

No one needs to be sidelined by ache or damage, which is why you may marvel if one thing is up whenever you discover that you simply don’t have as a lot flexibility as the teacher in your yoga class, or when your muscle mass really feel particularly stiff after a exercise.

However, muscle stiffness — or being unable to bend like gumby — isn’t essentially an indication that one thing is improper. It’s useful to perceive what defines regular flexibility, why you may really feel muscle stiffness, and when what you’re experiencing might be an indication of an damage for which it is best to search medical recommendation.

Defining Normal Range of Motion

Injury, trauma, and motion dysfunction apart, vary of movement and adaptability are influenced by quite a lot of elements together with:

Age and Sex
Women are usually extra versatile than males and we sometimes lose flexibility as we grow old.

The make-up of your connective tissue can predispose you to be kind of versatile.

Joint Structure
Every joint is constructed to accommodate a unique vary of movement. For instance, whereas each are ball and socket joints, the hip joint is constructed to have much less vary of movement than your shoulder joint, so it’s in a position to help you whenever you stand on it.

Types of Activities Performed
Your physique adapts to the positions that you simply put it in. If your coaching or day by day actions contain shifting via giant ranges of movement, then you’ll typically have extra flexibility round the joints that you simply transfer. If you sit most of the day and your coaching includes extra isolation work in a hard and fast place, then you’ll typically have much less vary of movement obtainable to you.

Muscle Mass
Weight coaching doesn’t essentially scale back flexibility. However, as beforehand talked about, your physique adapts to the sort of coaching you do. If you will have numerous dense muscle round a joint and thicker tendinous attachments, you then won’t have as a lot vary of movement there.

Normal vary of movement and adaptability are totally different for each individual and are depending on quite a few elements, each inside and out of doors of your management.

However, simply because one other individual has extra flexibility than you do doesn’t imply that there’s something flawed with yours.

Flexibility can also be joint-specific. This signifies that some joints are constructed to have extra vary of movement, and in addition that it’s potential to have an excessive amount of vary of movement in a single joint, and never sufficient in one other. For instance, you may have an excessive amount of flexibility in your decrease again, not sufficient in your hips, and an applicable quantity in your shoulders.

How a lot vary of movement you want is activity-dependent, which may also help you identify in case you want to work in your flexibility.

As a common rule, you need sufficient vary of movement to give you the chance to carry out actions with out compromising perform or construction. For occasion, you need to have sufficient hamstring size to find a way to bend over to tie your footwear with out compromising your decrease again.

Additionally, when you power practice, you’ll need sufficient hamstring flexibility to permit you to hinge ahead to seize the bar, with out rounding your decrease again, which might end in a disc damage underneath load. However, you don’t essentially want the hamstring flexibility that may permit you to do the splits, which is perhaps the case for knowledgeable dancer.

The similar concept could be utilized to the higher physique. You want a specific amount of motion in the higher again and shoulders to get your arms overhead to seize objects from excessive cabinets or carry out overhead presses. Without that vary of movement, you may find yourself creating a few of that motion out of your decrease again, which over time might end in ache or damage. However, you additionally don’t essentially want the higher physique flexibility of a aggressive gymnast performing superior tumbling expertise.

It can also be necessary to observe that a specific amount of muscle stiffness may be protecting towards damage. For instance, If you’re again squatting a heavy barbell, having some stiffness round your backbone can forestall you from hyperextending your decrease again. Additionally, in the event you play an impact-based sport like soccer, muscular stiffness will help shield your backbone when somebody tackles you on the subject.

Hypermobility and Too Much Flexibility

It is feasible to have an excessive amount of flexibility, which is usually referred to as hypermobility. This happens when the joint is in a position to transfer past its regular vary of movement.

While having numerous flexibility isn’t all the time an indication of dysfunction, it may end up in ache and damage, particularly when one is missing the stability and power to management the joint at the finish of its vary of movement, notably in loaded actions.

Most accidents happen at the finish of a joint’s vary of movement, as a result of it’s the place we’re weakest, since we don’t use our finish vary in every day life. For instance, strolling isn’t going to activate your hip muscle mass at their finish vary. This is necessary to word, as a result of in case you are working in your flexibility by doing numerous passive stretching, you need to just remember to additionally practice your physique to use and management that further vary of movement to scale back your danger of damage.

For instance, after stretching your hamstrings and hip flexors, you may practice your physique to use and management that newfound vary of movement by performing workouts like glute bridges and seated leg lifts.

Joint Instability vs. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

Sometimes a sense of muscle stiffness or tightness is an indication of weak spot at the joint, or joint instability. In this case, it’s believed that your nervous system is sending a sign of stiffness as a warning signal that there’s weak spot at that joint, so that you don’t injure your self by shifting into a variety of movement that you could’t management.

Researchers at the University School of Physical Education in Katowice, Poland examined the results of coaching the lumbo-pelvic-hip complicated, or core and hip stability coaching, on hamstring stiffness over 4 weeks. They discovered that stability coaching appeared to be efficient in decreasing hamstring stiffness, in comparison to the management group [1].

It just isn’t unusual to really feel tightness and ache in the areas the place you’re hypermobile and have an excessive amount of vary of movement. In this case, although it’d really feel like that space may benefit from being stretched, stability and power work may very well be a more sensible choice for assuaging ache and discomfort.

Stiffness and ache with restricted vary of movement may also be an indication of instability or potential damage. However, that is totally different than the the  burning sensation you may really feel in your muscular tissues throughout train, which signifies effort, or discomfort or muscle stiffness you may really feel throughout difficult exercise or 24 to 72 hours after you exercise, which is known as delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS.

DOMS sometimes presents as muscle soreness and stiffness hours or days after new or strenuous train. According the the American College of Sports Medicine, it’s believed to be brought on by microtrauma to the muscle fibers, which stimulates your muscle tissues to adapt and get stronger [2].

This can also be why DOMS will typically seem when you have got tried a brand new exercise or have switched up your exercise. Your physique has not but tailored to these actions. However, the subsequent time you repeat that exercise, it’s doubtless that you simply gained’t be as sore.

DOMS will sometimes current as tenderness when touching the muscle, a short lived discount in power, or a minimal achy or tight feeling at relaxation. It will often reply favorably to mild stretching or motion and can dissipate inside a number of days, which is when it’s advised that you simply resume the exercise that incited the soreness.

Conversely, a possible damage will sometimes current as a pointy ache or ache throughout or after train, round the muscle or the joint. This ache will often current inside the first 24 hours of train or throughout the exercise. It will typically really feel worse with continued exercise or motion, and can linger longer than 72 hours. It can also current with extreme stiffness, vital emotions of weak spot, or a lack of vary of movement.

If you expertise one of these ache, it is strongly recommended that you simply seek the advice of a medical skilled for analysis and remedy.

Coaches’ Corner

If your shopper comes to you with a priority about muscle stiffness, how have you learnt when you ought to recommend relaxation and workouts to enhance flexibility, or refer them out to a medical skilled earlier than working with you?

As health professionals, it’s out of our scope of follow to diagnose or deal with ache.

If your shopper is presenting indicators of ache, instability, or potential damage, as outlined above, then it’s suggested that you simply refer them to a medical skilled. However, if they’re displaying signs of DOMS and their discomfort and stiffness lessens after a day or two, then you’ll be able to educate them on the distinction between discomfort and ache they usually can resume their exercises as applicable.

Additionally, this supplies a chance for you to speak to your shoppers about whereas it’s not essentially an indication of damage, soreness additionally isn’t the mark of a superb exercise. In reality, as a result of DOMS can briefly lower athletic efficiency and improve the danger of damage, it isn’t one thing that ought to be wanted [3].


  1. Kuszewski M, Gnat R, Saulicz E. Stability coaching of the lumbo-pelvic-hip complicated affect stiffness of the hamstrings: a preliminary research. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. 2009: 19, 260-266.
  2. ACSM info on Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, American College of Sports Medicine, 2011.
  3. Cheung Okay, Hume P, Maxwell L, Delayed onset muscle soreness : remedy methods and efficiency elements, Sports Med. 2003;33(2):145-64.

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