“Secondary only to stress, tight muscles are the result of the nervous system’s response to instability. Think about walking on ice or on a wet tile floor. Do you walk tall with full, rapid strides or do you walk with a more flexed spine posture and shorter, less confident steps? Of course, our nervous system chooses the latter response as its’ strategy to unstable situations.” – Excerpt from Is it Possible to Be More Flexible Without Stretching? Evan Osar, D.C.
If you have ever experienced a setback in your training because of an injury, then you know exactly what Evan Osar is referring to.
If you have ever struggled with plantar fasciitis, then you have experienced how difficult it is to take those initial steps when you first wake up in the wee hours of the morning. I know exactly how that feels. You can’t hobble to the bathroom fast enough! Meanwhile, the calf muscles are trying to tell you that those stretches you keep doing are not getting to the source of the problem and that is the reason you keep feeling the need to do the same stretches.
Similarly, if you have ever rolled an ankle and been diagnosed with a sprained ligament, then you have also felt how incredibly difficult it was to utilize your normal stride when walking. Once again, the muscles around your ankle joint are tightening up to protect you from further injury. Do you see a pattern here? And the pattern doesn’t change just because the label for the injury changed. No. Without fail, the muscles’ response is always the same.
Within a short amount of time after the injury you can feel you are not capable of striding out as much, no matter how much conscious effort you put into it. After limping around the place for a couple of days, the sensation of pain drives your body in any way that it can to stay away from the discomfort. Your body’s natural protective mechanism is to tighten up the muscles that cross the joint(s).
But just because it is natural does not mean it is normal.
And that is one of the connections that I’m trying to make in this post. Stretching may (or may not!?) relax a muscle for the time being, but the body will still figure out a way to tighten up as a compensation for the weak muscle.