Muscle tightness is by far the most common condition that people come into my office for. Muscle tightness and trigger points are often overlooked by most doctors which is too bad since these conditions can cause a wide array of symptoms like tingling in the arms, hands, legs, and feet; headaches, weakness in your muscles, and plain old pain.  Since muscle the primary cause of trigger points is muscle tightness the most common question I get is “if muscle tightness causes this then is it bad if I go to the gym since I am going to tighten the muscle?”

Well, ultimately the answer is that it depends on how you workout or exercise. If you give yourself the proper amount of rest and recovery I would say no.

From the standpoint of healthy muscles and joints  you need a certain amount of strength, flexibility, and endurance.  It is the right amount of not too much and not too little.

Another factor of muscle health is the state of the muscles themselves. When massage therapists talk about trigger points and adhesions we are talking about physical changes in the muscle tissue. These physical changes in muscle tissue affect the ability of your muscles to generate strength, to be flexible, and affects circulation to the muscle depriving them of the nutrition they need.

The most important things that your muscles to need to be healthy are strength, flexibility, and rest.

What Is Strength

Strength is the ability of your muscles to generate force and is important to support the integrity of your joints. There are different aspects of strength: maximum strength and strength endurance. Maximum strength is the most amount of force a muscle can produce and is usually done with one to three repetitions and a high amount of weight, while strength endurance is the amount of times a muscle can produce force and is done with a moderate amount of weight and several repetitions from twelve to twenty.

Different muscle groups likely need different types of training. One common misconception is that if you have a strong back you will have less back pain. Dr. Stuart McGill, a professor and back pain specialist at Waterloo University, says that in many studies this is not true and what turns out to be important to prevent low back pain is endurance.

This makes sense if you look at the role of the low back muscles. Their role is to stop motion. When muscles are required to stop motion, also known as stabilization, this requires your muscles to contract for longer periods of time. Hence the need for endurance for your low back muscles.

The conditions that predispose your muscles to trigger points are repetitive motions, a high level of eccentric muscle contraction (when your muscles act to slow down movement like doing a squat or bicep curl), and continuing to exercise when your muscles are fatigued.

Why Flexibility?

Another aspect of muscle health is flexibility or the ability of your muscles to stretch. When a muscle is stretched too quickly beyond it’s ability to stretch it is torn. Therefore your muscles need a certain amount of flexibility. However, flexibility does not mean you will have pain free movement or prevent pain.

The most important role of your muscles is to provide stability to your joints. However, if your muscles are too tight and you move quickly beyond their ability to stretch you will tear them. This is known as a strain or pulled muscle and is commonly seen when casually bending to pick something up off the floor.

As you bend this requires the low back muscles to stretch. As your low back muscles tend to be tight anyway, a quick movement to bend over can pull or strain your low back muscles.

Sometimes you may stretch and feel like your muscles are still tight. If you stretch and have a normal range of motion this is likely not a problem of muscle tightness but a problem of trigger points in the muscle. If you use heat and self massage or self myofascial realease this will help more with trigger points.

The Importance of Rest

Rest is needed because this is when your body heals and repairs tissue. When proper rest periods are neglected the body does not heal well. Factors that can affect your ability to get the most from rest is stress (either physical, mental, and emotional) and nutritional deficiencies.

What are Trigger Points

Trigger points are hypersensitive knots in the muscle. They are caused by a lack of circulation in the muscle that results in the muscle not receiving the nutrients it needs to break the contraction. This results in irritating wastes in the muscle. These irritating wastes produce an inflammatory response in the muscle which in turn produces scar tissue or adhesions in the muscle.

Trigger points can be caused by repetitive motion, long periods of holding ( like looking down at a book, sitting in front of a computer, or holding a purse, briefcase, book bag, groceries,) or muscle contractions that force the muscle to slow down movements (lowering a weight, controlling weights, or other outside force.) 

Adhesions can stick to other muscles, bones, joints, and nerves. All the tissues of the body are supposed to be relatively separate. Scar tissue is made of very dense and sticky substance meant to repair areas of damage. Adhesions can be caused by muscle strain or direct trauma, or the trigger point scenario listed above.

Scar tissue is normally a good thing but sometimes the body overdoes things and over produces scar tissue. One of the main mechanisms to make sure the scar tissue is laid down in a nice pattern is movement. A combination of strength and stretching is helpful to achieve this.

Other factors that may cause trigger points are other underlying conditions such as arthritis, injury, diabetes, and perhaps even nutritional deficiencies.

How to Prevent Trigger Points

Sometimes direct manipulation is needed. Massage in combination with pressure, movement and stretching is very helpful in reducing adhesions.

Trigger points are best treated with pressure, short massage strokes that encourage a milking of the tissue, and heat can be helpful to alleviate trigger points. In severe cases when direct manipulation does not work doctors will use trigger point injections which can be very effective.

What Your Muscles Need to Stay Healthy

The right amount of movement, strength, flexibility, and rest is a good prescription for healthy muscles. Any movement or exercise that you choose will have a certain amount of strength and flexibility already in the exercise.

I hope this article was helpful. If you have any questions or comments let me know in the comments below. I’d love to know what you think.

 

 

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Mmatt-squareatthew Snow is a Licensed Massage Therapist practicing in Greenwich, CT. If you would like to schedule or make an appointment call (203) 660-0584or email hello@h2tmuscleclinic.com. To learn more about Matt check out his About Page.