Many patients complain of a feeling of tightness and stiffness in their hips, shoulders, back and neck and are frustrated by their repeated attempts at stretching for relief.
Are you actually stiff and tight, or is that just a perception that your brain and nervous system has created to protect you? Recent research suggests that chronic stiffness and tightness may be just a perception as a way of protecting you from further injury. In this research, it was found that feeling stiff does not equate to being stiff.
In my experience, I often see patients who complain of tight hamstrings and hips – they can’t touch their toes because of the tightness they feel in their legs. Yet, when I test their hamstrings and hips while they are laying down on their back when there is no weight bearing load on the spine, the hamstrings and hips are actually quite flexible. Same thing for stiff necks and shoulders.
If your deep spinal and core stabilizing muscles are weak, your nervous system will tighten up your superficial muscles to protect you. Laying down, your nervous system lets these muscles go as there is no need for the added protection, hence more flexibility. If you have repeatedly had back or neck problems, the nervous system will make you feel stiff as a way to protect you from further injury. But if you are not really stiff, so why spend a lot of time stretching the heck out of your back and neck? Maybe there’s better use of your time by doing other things to help.
Interestingly, chiropractic treatment has been found to have quite an effect on the areas of the brain and nervous system that respond to sensation and muscle control. It’s a way to hack into the nervous system to reset the control of muscles. It also has been found to activate the small deep core muscles of the spine.
Proper strengthening exercises are also an excellent way to deal with this feeling of stiffness and tightness. Get some expert advice and use weights to strengthen the necessary muscles.
A little stretching is good, but some people are twisting and pulling on parts of their bodies that are actually making them tighter as the nervous system sees this as a threat and later tightens you up more to protect your spine.
Move well, and move often, but don’t spend a lot of time trying to stretch out your tightness. Find the cause.