The science behind stretching – part 2

In part one of this blog piece Ben examined how tightness can be a warning for us to get moving before a movement dysfunction occurs. Here he looks more closely at stretching…

Stretching – an effective way to reduce tightness?

My motto in life is simple “if it feels good do it” and the same principle can be applied to stretching. However, its not always that simple. If stretching isn’t helping and is in fact increasing the feeling of tightness you should stop immediately.

Instinctively we stretch muscles that have remained in a short position for extended periods which often provides the necessary relief.

This would of course make sense if the root of the problem was short or adhered tissues. But if the root problem is in fact increased sensitivity or neural tension, then aggressive stretching might just make the problem worse.

Soft Tissue work / massage for tightness

There are various soft tissue treatments (deep tissue massage, foam rolling, MET, myofascial sling therapy) which in my opinion do not greatly lengthen shortened muscles or increase facial length but in fact decrease sensitivity and therefore can be more effective at decreasing the feeling of tightness for people who do not get a benefit from stretching.

It is however very important to use the right techniques and pressure to alter sensitivity as soft tissue release can also increase nociception / sensitivity if applied incorrectly.

Motor Control

Movement therapy is essentially a motor control approach as it seeks to change movement, postural and breathing habits so it is often more effective at challenging the multi-factorial dimensions associated with that feeling of tightness. In very complex situations motor control training should not be expected to resolve the issue on its own but it certainly a vital component in cases where tightness seems related to certain postures or movements.

Exercise and Resistance Training

People tend to associate strength training with becoming tighter but it has been proven that strength training through your full range of movement can increase flexibility and reduce the perception of tightness, certainly more than stretching alone.

It creates local adaptations in muscle that may improve endurance and make them less likely to suffer metabolic distress and can lower levels of inflammation that cause nervous system sensitivity.

On the other hand, it is essential to remember if you overwork your muscles from strength training and don’t let them recover, they will get sensitive, stiff and sore. But if you work them the right amount – enough to create an adaptation and not too much to cause injury or prevent full recovery – then you will make them healthier, stronger, and you may even reduce the sensation of tightness.


The take home message is it is important to remember tightness is a feeling and not always a structural issue. Some forms of tightness may benefit from hands on treatment and a structured rehab program which encompasses static or dynamic stretching.

However, all forms of tightness will benefit by trying a multifactorial treatment such as Physiotherapy assessment / treatment and an appropriate rehab program which incorporates motor control, strengthening, proprioception, and general health & wellbeing.

Therefore, Reformer Pilates is an essential component of rehabilitation for any patients who are finding it hard to shift that feeling of tightness.

Come in and see our specialist Chartered Physiotherapists so they can assess you, treat your dysfunction and guide you through your individually designed Reformer Pilates exercises to provide you with tools necessary to manage this feeling of tightness successfully and independently.