Why Does Our Body Tighten Up?

 

There are many reasons why our body tightens up.

 This graphic illustrates that being too active and not being active enough have both been correlated with a higher risk for non-impact injury. Yes, another study confirming that we should find more balance. 

This graphic illustrates that being too active and not being active enough have both been correlated with a higher risk for non-impact injury. Yes, another study confirming that we should find more balance. 

Some of the reasons are:

  • Intense physical activity all the time without movement variability
  • Lack of physical activity (sedentary lifestyle)
  • Sustained or repetitive postures (lack of postural variations)
  • Repetitive & asymmetrical (one sided) movements
  • Injury & pain
  • Imbalance between physical training & rest-recovery strategies
  • Improper ergonomics (unsupportive pillow, mattress, &/or work station)

Basically if we are too sedentary or too active without variations & rest our body will tighten up on us. But Why? 

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The "why" comes from understanding the basics of a concept called:

 

Motor Control - 

or how the body & brain communicate to one another to control and refine movement. Note the following explanation about the development of tightness is in the absence of pain & injury.

There are little nerve sensors embedded in all of our joints & muscles that are responsible for communicating to the brain about the body's current position in space (aka proprioception). The information coming into the brain from these sensors is critical because the brain uses this information to process & plan the signals that it sends back to the muscles for proper stabilization & movement coordination. For example, the signals from these little sensors to the brain is how you know what position your arm is in even when its pitch black and you can’t see a thing. 

These muscle & joint sensors communicate best to the brain when they are stimulated by movement or Controlled Mobility, especially variable movement. If a muscle or joint is tight due to lack of movement or the same repetitive movements, then some sensors aren't stimulated and the brain gets less information about the body's current position in space, compromising our stabilization and movement coordination. 

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So without this critical input from the body's sensors, the brain & the central nervous system seek other ways to get information about the body's current position & joint stabilization. The easiest way to do that is the brain will increase signals to the muscles to increase resting muscle tension or "tone". This also leads to the development of Trigger Points which you can learn more about in our 3 part Trigger Point series.

This increased muscle tone, stimulates muscle sensors. Increased muscle tone also increases joint compression, which stimulates joint sensors. So with this new strategy, the brain is getting more input from the body.

It's a "three for one" deal: 

Increase resting muscle tension = more stability + more information from muscles + more information from joints. 

  The sensory cortex is the area of the brain that is responsible for receiving the inputs from the body. Note: there are common anatomical areas in the brain designated to receive info from certain body parts. Yes this is the same in all of us.  

The sensory cortex is the area of the brain that is responsible for receiving the inputs from the body. Note: there are common anatomical areas in the brain designated to receive info from certain body parts. Yes this is the same in all of us.  

This is what we all call "compensation" or as martial artists or yogis might say, "energy leaks". 

So our body essentially tightens up due to an input vs output mismatch for the sake of finding joint stability and positional sense.

The end result is -

Altered Motor Control

Or altered output from the brain to our muscles due to poor input from the body to our brain. This leaves us with poor balance, unequal joint loads, poor mobility, poor body control, poor coordination, and overall awkward movement.

You can use the old saying here of “garbage in (to the brain), garbage out (to the muscles).”

This is basically "Why Controlled Mobility Matters", because

Proper mobility = proper input to the brain about body's current position = proper movement processing & planning by the brain = proper movement output which is body control, balance, strength, and joint wellness.

 This is the "why" behind our Core Principle 2: Move Well. Move Often and why we use objective tools like the Functional Movement Screen & The Selective Functional Movement Assessment to raise the bar for mobility, control, and movement wellness.

 
Ramez Antoun