These are all different techniques that we use when we feel like we have tight muscles, and they're all various ways to address tightness in the muscle. When we stretch a muscle, we're taking a muscle and we're elongating it; we're making it longer by doing a particular movement with the bones of our body. So, for example, if you're stretching your hamstring and you bend down to touch your toes, you've elongated that hamstring. And what's that's doing is creating circulation to the muscle, it's warming up the muscle, increasing the pliability and that is preparing that muscle to be contracted or to be moved through a range of motion.
There are some things that when you do actually stretch a muscle, on the level of the brain, it's telling the body that it can release some tension in that muscle. Different sensory organs in the muscle itself are sending information to the brain like: how fast the muscle is being stretched, how long the muscle is being stretched etc. Those signals can get reprogrammed so that your body will eventually allow you to stretch a little bit further each time. The intention of stretching is really to warm-up or prepare or even to allow for the muscle to repair in a proper way. So,if you did injure your hamstring, for example, you do want to do some gentle stretching to it, because it allows that muscle to repair properly; in the proper orientation of those muscle fibers. This is different from a massage.
When you massage a muscle, you're rubbing over it, you're manipulating it, you're moving it. There're different kinds of massage strokes that can be used, and that is another way of increasing the circulation of the muscle. It's a way of clearing out toxins in the muscle, it's a way of telling the nervous system to help relax the muscle, and it produces a calming effect, the sympathetic nervous system. Often times we all love having our backs or our necks rubbed because it's calming, among other factors. These two things, stretching and massaging, or rubbing, is different than pressing on the muscle. And I make this distinction because there are many people that go in for a massage because they have muscle knots in their body, or maybe they're using a foam roller, or some massage tool to help release tension in the body, and although stretching and massage are very helpful at reducing those things and healing those things, one of the most effective ways to release tension in a muscle knot or a trigger point is just direct pressure.
When you put direct pressure on a muscle, you find the tight and tight muscle knot and put direct pressure on the muscle. That muscle will increase circulation, so you will be doing some of the same things with those other techniques, but it also is going to help inhibit the contraction of those muscle fibers. If you hold it long enough in that one place, not rubbing it, not rolling on it, not massaging it, but just holding it, neurologically, the brain tells that part of the muscle to relax. And that's where you can get really a long-term release of that spot. The prolonged pressure is really essential for releasing muscle tension that is related to muscle knots and trigger points and is much different from those other two techniques.