Sometimes it seems that tightness is the natural state of your leg muscles. Tight muscles in general can be uncomfortable -- if not outright painful -- but when the leg muscles seize up, they tend to take your pelvis and lower back with them.
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Needless to say, that can set off a serious chain of pain with no gain. Over-the-counter or prescribed pain medications may help for awhile, but sooner or later you'll want to get to the root of the problem in a natural and sustainable way.
Read More: What Causes Muscle Tightness Post-Workout?
A good massage can do wonders and put the spring back in your step by increasing blood flow and softening the muscle tone in your legs. A 2008 review of research on the effectiveness of massage in the North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found several studies showing that massage significantly lengthened the hamstring muscles in competitive athletes. Massage increases circulation and loosens spasms that cause the muscles to feel knotted.
You may have to experiment a bit to find the style of massage that works best for you. Swedish massage employs light to medium pressure to boost circulation and energize the body while deep tissue massage is great for ironing out kinks and knots. Thai massage uses the body weight of the masseuse to stretch limbs and kneed tense leg muscles into relaxation.
Yoga and Stretching
It is probably safe to say that there is not one technique used in mainstream medical physical therapy that isn't somehow derived from yoga, which definitely has a lot to offer for tight leg muscles. If you're new to yoga, a beginner's class will likely yield immediate relief for your tight legs, as well as your tight everything else. Because if your legs are uncomfortably tight, it is probably safe to assume that your whole musculo-skeletal system could use some elongation.
In the meantime, there are a few specific things you can do to get started on your legs. Forward folds are excellent for de-stressing taut hamstrings. But it's also important to lengthen the muscles that run down the front of the leg, such as the quadriceps and the shin muscle (tibius anterior). When too tight, they pull against the calf muscle, causing pain and restricting mobility.
You can stretch your quads by lying face down and pulling one foot toward your behind until you feel mild stretch in the front of your thigh. To go deeper, hinge your hips backwards. Hold this for 30 seconds and repeat two or three times. Give the shin a good tug by stepping your left foot behind you and pressing your toes or the top of your foot against the floor. Shift your body forward until you feel it in the front of your shin. Hold for a minute and switch sides.
If the problem is higher up, you might benefit from these stretches for tight gluteus muscles. You'll cover all the bases with these yoga stretches for the legs. Stretch to a point at which you're just past your comfort zone and and be sure to stretch before and after all exercise.
Self-Myofascial Release (SMR)
One reason muscle tightness occurs is that clots of collagen form between layers of muscle, restricting their ability to slide against each other. Myofascial release is a technique aimed at breaking those deposits up, as well as for removing muscle adhesions, softening scar tissue and generally opening the way for increased muscle activity. Self-Myofascial Release (SMR), as you might guess, is the DIY version. The goal is to release trigger points caused by painful kinks in the muscle tissue.
There are number of ways to release these trigger points, but foam rolling is makes it easy to do the work on yourself. You can place the roller under your calves and slowly roll along the back sides of your legs from your knees to your ankles. You can do the same for the thighs and quads. Be sure to linger on the tender area as long as you can stand it. Releasing the problem areas will reduce tightness through the entire leg.
Read More: How to Roll Out Your Hamstrings
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Massage
- MassageTherapy.com: Types of Massage and Bodywork Defined
- North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy: The Role of Massage in Sports Performance
- ACE Fitness: How and When to Use Foam Rollers and Myofacial release
- "American Family Physician"; Trigger Points...; David J. Alvarez, D. O., et al.; February 2002
- Health First Chiropractic: High Heels - The Chiropractic Perspective
- Sports Injury Bulletin: The Trouble With Sitting