“My hamstrings are tight.”
This is something clinicians and coaches constantly hear in reference to a variety of muscle groups or areas of the body. Often times the individual with this complaint is scrawny and de-conditioned, with little reason for feeling this way.
He or she feels this way due to instability and a lack of motor control in the area of complaint. For example, the individual described earlier complaining of “tight” hamstrings could be in a prolonged dysfunctional position proximally at the spine and pelvis, with the hamstrings guarding to protect the area. The local stabilizers at these proximal joints are not doing their job effectively therefore the hamstrings are compensating to pick up the slack.
This would be an example of stiffness as the central nervous system has increased its tone to the hamstrings in a protective response. Stiffness such as this must be differentiated from shortness, which is a physiological decrease in tissue length.
For these reasons, tightness is a meaningless description of an individual or athlete’s symptoms. It must be determined whether this feeling is due to stiffness or shortness so that the clinician or coach can respond appropriately.
Stay tuned for future posts on the most appropriate methods to address these issues!