PT on the Net Research

Muscle Tightness from Lack of Stability


I have been training a client with incredibly tight calves, hamstrings, glutes, lower back and pectorals. While stretching his hams and glutes, he will usually feel it in his lower back before the targeted area. He's tried Pilates, sports massage and physio, but not much progress has been made. He's a professional photographer and has had to carry heavy equipment for a long time, which has adversely affected his posture and flexibility. How can I help this person improve his flexibility?


The symptoms noted are a common response in clients that demonstrate significant muscle tightness throughout their bodies. One of the key factors that contributes to muscle tightness is when the body senses a lack of stability coming from the muscular system. Stress, trauma or overuse of muscles will cause the muscle to become less efficient in its contractile capabilities. This end result is an inability for the muscles to perform their job of stabilizing joints. The body, in turn, recognizes this instability resulting in a hyper-contraction of other muscles in attempts to protect the body from injury. It is like when we walk on ice: the body senses instability and the muscles tighten up in attempts to provide a sense of stability. When we melt the ice, the muscles relax. Thus, the key component behind muscle tightness is instability.

Many times, we look at tightness as being the cause of pain or dysfunction when actually it is just a response by the nervous system attempting to provide a sense of stability. The reason that people get tighter as they age is because they are becoming less and less stable. Basically, the muscle system is becoming less efficient.

The goal is to identify which muscles are not functioning properly and improve their contractile capabilities. This in turn results in a relaxation of the tight muscles. Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT) provides a systematic approach to identify and correct these muscle imbalances that can contribute to chronic pain or dysfunction. MAT is unique to most forms of exercise and therapy in that it looks at muscle tightness as being secondary to muscle weakness. The goal of MAT is to improve the contractile characteristics of all muscles so the body no longer has to tighten up to protect from instability. You can find out more about the concepts of MAT in the science section of the web site at