Our joint motion can be limited in a variety of ways. We can have flexibility or mobility limitations (muscle length or joint stiffness). This is best assessed by a healthcare provider for an accurate assessment. This article is going to explain the potential origins of limited motion and talk about simple changes you can try to improve on what you have.
What is confusing about tight muscles? Well, to be honest, I find this to be more confusing for people more frequently than I would have guessed going into health and fitness. Even health professionals can explain what is happening poorly or with low accuracy regarding this. But for the most part, this is pretty simple.
One important detail that most people don't know is that you can feel tight in your muscles and not actually have a loss of motion or lack muscle length. Sometimes our muscles feel tight without a true tightness (lack of motion). In the clinic, I couldn't count the number of people that say they have tight hamstrings that have 90 degrees of motion (70 being normal). Our sensation is not the most reliable in this aspect, but what it may mean is you have been using that muscle more than you're used to lately..
You can feel tight and not have a loss of motion.
Using a muscle frequently or more than it is used to can cause a muscle to feel tight and swollen. If you have ever lifted weights or performed other resistance training, you can likely recall feeling swollen in the muscle. If you do a bicep curl repeatedly until you can't anymore, then your muscle will get more and more swollen during this exercise. This is no different if your day to day activities or behaviors are repetitive. I will talk about this more at the end with regard to posture.
So simply, if you use a muscle more than it is used to, then it will get swollen and feel tight to your touch. If you exercise, you may notice this as a normal reaction.
Avoiding Muscle Stretch or Posture
Another way to get less flexible or lose motion is to not move. Who'd have thought? If you lay in bed for days without changing position, your muscles are going to shorten to the position they are in (as well as other issues). This doesn't seem that weird, but what we don't consider is sitting for long periods in the same position can have the same effect. The good thing is we can reverse these changes by challenging our end range of motion. Even if you sit all day for work, you can do things like lifting, yoga, or stretching programs to keep your motion.
A lack of movement or not moving out of the same postures will keep you able to assume only those same postures. Not to mention your joints will likely feel stiff.
Everyone is special, an individual. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. We have different anatomy, variations on the human form. Our genetics are the primary player on our bones and joint surfaces. How we develop our joints can make us more or less mobile in early life. It affects our joint mobility. While we can change our muscle length, we can only effect our joints to a limited extent and the limited improvement can make us feel much better but won't change much in terms of range of motion.
The bones of a joint will not change in the short term and change over years as we age. A hip socket can vary greatly providing immense or limited range of motion.
Physical therapists, chiropractors, and other health care professionals can be trained in joint mobilizations and manipulations to improve joint motion. However, no one can directly change the bones without trauma or surgery. Importantly, we can still improve our motion or work around limitations. I frequently help individuals optimize their movement with slight variations to their normal exercises.
In Summary: Move It or Lose It
It is best to seek a health care professional to determine what is most limiting to you. Your muscle flexibility, joint limitations, anatomy, and your motion throughout the day all take part in how much you can move in range of motion. I want to emphasize that our movement everyday, the motions we go through, help keep the motion we have. So again, if you don't use the motion, you lose it.
However, stretching, self massage, and other exercise such as yoga can help improve muscle length and flexibility. It is important to know that bones don't change in the short term; so your anatomy may limit your movement more than your flexibility.
I hope this clarifies some confusion about what can limit your motion. Please ask any questions you may have.