Great stuff from our friends at Shape.com:
Myth: Stretching and foam rolling will address all of my mobility problems.
Truth: Stretching and soft tissue work (like foam rolling and massage) may seem like the bread and butter of mobility, but there’s more to know. “If you have a true mechanical mobility problem, soft tissue work and different stretching techniques are definitely great options,” says Ardoin. But you might experience tightness or a loss of motion that doesn’t have anything to do with tissue restrictions like tight muscles or joint stiffness.
“In these particular people, they actually have the mobility needed, but their brain doesn’t know how to access it,” says Ardoin. This sort of muscle-brain disconnect could be because of current pain, previous injuries, or, “sometimes people just forget how to move,” he says.
In this case, your muscles are working against each other instead of synergistically—and it’s not something stretching or foam rolling will fix. The good news is that there’s not actually anything physically wrong. The bad news: This is tough to diagnose on your own. “If you have a loss of motion while you perform the motion yourself but have full ROM when performed passively, then it’s safe to assume that you have the ROM available but your brain doesn’t know how to access it,” says Ardoin.
For example, let’s say you have a “tight” shoulder. Make a large, slow circle with your right arm. Then totally relax your arm while someone else rotates your arm in a circle for you. Did it go farther while you let the motion happen passively? Ding, ding! Could be a brain problem, not a muscle problem. Think this might be you? Seeing a trainer or physical therapist to confirm it (and help you work on the issue) can’t hurt.