There are many components to flexibility, but perhaps none is quite as important as tonus. You might hear it referred to as simply “muscle tone,” but there is an important distinction; while muscle tone refers to the amount of tension or perceived tension within a muscle, tonus refers to the tension held by a muscle when resting.
That’s right—muscles hold tension even when they’re relaxing! Our nerves pick up on this resting tension – tonus – and send us signals that indicate tightness, making limbs and muscles “feel tight” even when the body is entirely relaxed. This tension, which is referred to as hypertonus in extreme cases, can stem from a multitude of things, including body structure, an intense workout the day before, or years of disuse.
Thankfully, tonus is a dynamic muscular component—it’s open to change and therefore, improvement. Reducing the tension you feel when relaxing can be as easy as taking some time to stretch throughout the week.
Stretching allows for retraining of the tonus; by gradually and safely challenging the proprioceptive nerves within the muscle to reach greater range of motion without inducing pain, the nerves will improve their ability to relax and the tightness we feel will be reduced.
Lowering muscle tonus is one of the many benefits of working with both the nervous system and the muscular system when stretching. To learn more about how the Stretch Zone Method utilizes this neuromuscular interaction, see our About page.