Most of us have been told before to have a shortened muscle that has become tight. Either after sport, or during therapy for different kinds of pain. But can muscles really shorten? If so, how can they be lengthened again? Or is there another reason behind it?
Sometimes simplified phrases are spread and eventually get integrated into the normal vocabulary, even though they are not quite correct. This is exactly what has happened here. What it means is that one or several joints are limited in their mobility, or that a muscle is unable to perform to its full physical capacity. This is caused by a limitation of the natural range of motion (ROM).
The structure of a muscle
However, a real shortage does actually occur. In order to make it more comprehensible, we will briefly explain the muscle structure.
There are three distinct types of muscle:
– Smooth muscles
– Striated muscles
– Cardiac muscles
The muscles moving our body are called skeletal muscles and belong to the striated musculature. Single muscle cells build up muscle fibres, which form the muscle bundles. Muscle bundles are surrounded by a layer of connective tissue, which merges into the fascia. Both ends of the muscle bulge connect to the bone with a tendon. If the muscle bulge contracts, it transfers the tension onto the tendon, which in turn transfers the tension onto the bone, thus causing movement in the joint.
If the muscle was indeed shortened, the only way to shorten the muscle would be to remove part of it and reconnecting the rest back together. As this is of course not the case, the reason for a reduced range of motion must be different.
Why the muscle can’t work properly
Functional shortening may be a more precise wording here. The cause of the problems may not be inherent to the muscle itself, but may lie in the surrounding fascia. The fascia network connects all parts and tissues of the body – bones, muscles, even organs. Incorrect loading or lack of activity for example can cause sticky adhesions of fascia, which lead to reduced relocatability of the fascia. This prevents the muscle from smoothly contracting and expanding. This in turn may reduce the range of motion of affected joints.
Therefore, if your hands can’t touch the floor when you’re standing, the culprit is not an anatomically shortened muscle, but a limitation of the muscle by sticky adhesions.
These adhesions have to be resolved, as they not only cause pain, but also prevent you from reaching your full physical capacity. It does not matter whether you suffer from acute pain or whether you are just stuck in your training; stop trying to solve the problem with static stretching exercises to lengthen the supposed shortened muscle, and start looking for sticky adhesions to resolve these instead.
Backrelease provides you with the tool you need to resolve these adhesions at any point in your body, to release the pain and to train at to your full potential again.
Laura, a physiotherapist for ten years