A common question we get as physical therapists is, “What can I do to stretch this tight muscle?” While stretching may seem like the best method to treat a tight muscle, stretching may also not always be the answer. Muscle tightness can be caused by weakness or tightness of the muscle, and weakness in surrounding muscles. Most commonly, all of these things are involved on some level, which causes a muscle to tighten.
Stretching can be very important for the tightness of muscles but is recommended to be performed at the end of an activity and performed statically. Static stretching is when a stretch is performed and held for a specific duration of time. Holding a stretch will help improve muscle length, and reduce muscle strength in the short term. If high-intensity activities are performed following static stretching injury can occur secondary to reduced strength of the stretched muscle.
Recommendation: Perform specific static stretching after activity to prevent muscle tightness
Massage guns are the new craze in the fitness industry. Massage guns can be used to help reduce muscle soreness and improve muscle length for a short period of time. Utilizing a massage gun can be very beneficial for improving tight muscles, but maintaining new muscle length will occur by using the newly gained motion from the massage gun. A massage gun does not permanently improve muscle length and tightness.1
Recommendation: Utilize the massage gun for 30 – 90 seconds per muscle before exercises to improve muscle tightness and range of motion
Foam rolling is a common tool utilized to treat tight muscles. This type of self-massage can help loosen tight muscles or help release those hard to get to trigger points. Foam rolling can be uncomfortable, but similarly to massage guns, it can help improve muscle length in the short term.
As stated above, a “tightness” feeling in a muscle can occur from muscle weakness. Improving muscle strength and muscular balance can help to improve tight muscles. By strengthening the affected muscle and muscles around it, you would achieve muscular balance and reduce tightness in the specific muscle.
As always, when trying something new to improve tightness or performance, listen to your body. Both the body and brain are brilliant and if something is painful, be sure to stop and seek the advice of a medical professional. An Athletico physical therapist can conduct a Free Assessment and answer questions or concerns, as well as provide recommendations for treatment to help your tight muscles. Free Assessments are available in-clinic and virtually through our Telehealth platform.
Physical therapy is usually the thing you are told to do after medication, x-rays or surgery. The best way to fix your pain is to start where you normally finish – with physical therapy at Athletico.
The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.
1. Konrad, A., Glashuttner, C., Reiner, M., Bernsteiner, D., & Tilp, M. (2020). The acute effects of a percussive massage treatment with a hyperbole device on plantar flexor muscles’ range of motion and performance. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 690-694.
2. Cirino, E. (2019, July 6). What causes muscle rigidity? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/muscle-rigidity.
3. MediLexicon International. (n.d.). Muscle stiffness: causes, symptoms, and treatment. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320545.