Flexibility is one of the big goals people pursue in health, performance and mobility, and the holy grail for achieving this has always been stretching the muscle or tissues in various degrees of complexity and intensity. Stretching does have its place in the therapeutic and health realm, but the notion that you can tug and tug on a part of you and have it change is entirely flawed. The nervous system is what controls our soft tissues and what they’re doing at any given time, including how tight muscles are. If a 20 year old ballet dancer, and a 60 year old lifelong desk worker both get in a car accident and do not survive, their bodies are suddenly just as flexible. If the mechanical tension model of a muscle literally being too short would not allow this to be the case if it were true. Even in the most severe living tissue cases, such as frozen shoulder where someone gets severe mobility limitations for their arm in the shoulder, once they are fully anesthetized, full mobility is again possible.

I don’t feel like it’s necessary to try to fight the issue further, so let’s take the discussion in the more appropriate direction. So if the nervous system has decided to make some tissue tighter, or even looser, the obvious question that no one seems to ask is why? There are a few possible reasons, but what it all comes down to is the body protecting itself either directly or through a more complicated strategy.

The simplest reason is that the muscle, tissue, or a connected tissue (like the tendons attached to that muscle) are damaged and if we allow too much stretch it will tear more or rupture completely, let alone heal. The nervous system simply will not allow you to stretch to that point, and so trying to push past that acute hard stop in your range of motion will only cause damage and prevent healing. It may also be weak and be tightening because it does not have confidence that it can stretch fully and hold itself in that mechanically disadvantageous position safely.

A similar mechanism is that a bone, joint, or other part of the body that the tissue you are stretching is attached to, is similarly going to need to minimize its ability to negatively impact this joint. Usually instead of being tighter, muscles that would pull on this spot would actually become inhibited and possibly more flexible, while muscles that will minimize the range of motion in that joint or injured bone will often get tighter. When there is an injury to a joint or something as crucial as the spine, this is very common and can lead to some severe tightness and dysfunction to keep the spine or other joints compressed as a way to manage a sense of instability or injury.

Taking to a bit of a more complicated situation, tightness is a way the body adapts to feeling some more global (whole body) instability. Hamstring flexibility seems to be the ultimate holy grail of mobility, but no one ever asks why. With so many other muscles often not working that keep the hips in their proper place such as the glutes not working to keep the back of the hips down, the QL’s (muscles above the hips acting like suspenders for them) pulling them up, and then similar on the front of the hips. The hamstrings end up being one of the few things still working that can keep the hips in place and extend the leg backwards at the hip. To stretch the hamstrings is to add even more instability to the situation.

NKT lower cross Sometimes stretching is beneficial and useful, but to use it to become more flexible will make the muscles react by becoming even tighter to protect themselves or whatever structure they’re attached to. Show the body that past injuries are healed, and get muscles turned on so that joints will be stable and don’t need the brain to protect it with a tightening compression strategy and flexibility can return. Stretching in this situation is just like trying to make someone feel safer by locking them up or attacking them.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the body does mechanically and, more importantly, neurologically adapt to the actual life your body leads. If you spend the whole time at your desk with shortened hamstrings, slack abs, tight hamstrings, and other such situations, that is where your body feels comfortable and the range that it believes it should be fit to ‘perform’ in. Living more active and in a more standing and dynamic lifestyle is going to be one of the most important things to keep these problems from happening in the first place and then reemerging. NKT can fix you, but you have to live so that it won’t just be put right back! Our species spent two million years walking around all day, crouching, climbing, carrying and throwing. Sitting is a relatively new ‘invention’ or behavior as far as humanity is concerned, for more than a few minutes to an hour a day to now we do it all but a few minutes a day. Standing desks, walking, and moving dynamically is more key to creating and maintaining flexibility than having a few moments of high stretch could ever be. With Neurokinetic Therapy™ we can find out what protective strategies the body is using to find a sense of stability, why, and how it is carrying them out. We can then fix these dysfunctions and faulty tissue relationships, thereby allowing flexibility to return without damaging tissues or making the body less stable.