The Surprising Side Effects of Tight Muscles
What have high blood pressure, plantar fasciitis, backpain and anxiety all have in common?
They can all be caused by tight muscles!
I would say that. I’m a yoga teacher. Let me explain.
When you sit in a chair (the chair part is important), your hamstrings (the long muscle – yes it is a muscle – that runs down the back of your leg) and your calf muscles are shorter than when you’re standing up. Spend a long time sitting in a chair regularly (and who doesn’t?) and your body is spending long periods folded up with bent knees and thigh bones lifted towards your body. If you keep muscles in the same position for a long time, they ‘forget’ how to make other positions. The fibres of the muscle get stuck on a short setting. You’re literally becoming chair shaped.
(spoiler alert: there are solutions at the end of the article)
Foot Pain - Plantar Fasciitis
The tight shortened muscles in your legs are connected all the way down to the tissues running along the soles of your feet. Now with each step those tissues are stressed and pulled more than they should be by the tight muscles above that have forgotten how to lengthen. Each step makes a tiny micro-tear in the connective tissue (fascia) under your feet like an elastic band pulled at full stretch. In time those tears add up. They hurt and become inflamed when you walk. The tissue wrapping under your foot is called the plantar fascia and when it’s inflamed you have plantar fasciitis. OUCH!
Many people find relief by raising their heel bone by wearing heeled shoes or trainers or by adding an insert into their shoes. But that’s just propping up the tight tissue by preventing it from lengthening. Your heel bone is supposed to be able to touch the ground for your feet, legs, hips, back, core structure, shoulders and neck to function properly. What you really need to do is re-learn how to stretch out your calf.
It’s easier to see how alignment affects the body’s mechanics, but how can tight muscles affect blood pressure and your emotional state?
High Blood Pressure
Imagine putting a balloon in a jam jar and filling it with water. The amount of water the balloon can contain is limited by the size of the jam jar. It’s the same with your muscles. Tight muscles prevent their cells expanding to their full capacity so they hold less blood than they should. You always have the same amount of blood, so there’s more blood in your bigger blood vessels and driving your blood pressure up.
All body systems are complicated and your blood pressure depends on a lot of other factors too, but I think it’s interesting to know that a daily stretch has wider benefits that just making it easier to pick something up off the floor.
Tight muscles stop the signals from the nervous system around your body communicating so well with your brain. Your brain knows you need muscles that are just the right length to stop your body from degenerating. Just like when you look at a fuzzy or blank CCTV screen, your brain knows that the signal isn’t working and that something is wrong. You experience a stressed, anxious response but without really knowing why or how to solve it.
The Good News
You might think that you’ve always had tight muscles or it’s just the way that you’re built. If you’ve always used your body in the same way, then you’ll keep on having a similar experience. If you change the way you’re using your body, it can surprise you in all sorts of ways.
That’s the good news. Tightness can be released! Muscle length can be restored!
Our bodies communicate with us clearly and specifically if we’re willing to listen.
PS longer and longer muscles aren’t better and better. Goldilocks had the right idea. You need balance. Just the right amount. Not too tight and not too loose.
Stretch your calves. Especially if you sit a lot (that’s everyone then). Follow along with my calf stretch video. You’ll need a book, rolled up bath towel or a yoga block. Experiment with the right depth for you. The deeper block, the deeper the stretch. Go steady start with a small block and increase little by little.
Walk. Outside. Get fresh air and vitamin D bonus. Do not walk (or run) on a treadmill if you love your pelvic floor (who doesn’t?). Walking blog and tutorial will follow at some point.
Sit less and move more. An hour of walking does not cancel out eight hours of sitting. Move and stretch (see above) every half hour.
Sit differently. Sitting in exactly the same position every single time uses and ignores the same muscles every single time. Swap chairs. Sit on the footstool. Sit on the floor. Change how you sit in as many ways as you can.
Sit better. Lastly, if you’re sitting on a chair, aim to keep the natural curves in your spine with a gentle arch in your lower back. Do not sit on the back of your hips/sacrum. It ruins your lower back and your pelvic floor (that suddenly sounds more motivating!).
Build strength. Sit without support behind you for a while. Build up slowly. You've been leaning back into the back of the chair for many years. It's going to take a while to undo. And that's fine.
With thanks to Katy Bowman and her book – Alignment Matters: The first five years of Katy says While it’s a great resource for alignment and anatomy geeks, it’s accessible, laugh out loud (yes, I’m aware of the acronym and refusing to use it) funny and easy to read.