The main problem with stretching is that there are so many ways of doing it and in general we don’t stretch well. The tendency for most people is to stretch where there is pain or at least intense discomfort and then stay there as long as possible. Sometimes we pick some arbitrary length of time and hold our position regardless of what it feels like. We know this doesn’t work well. The only thing muscles can do is to contract. Once muscles tire they stay tight. We all know the feeling we get the day after overexercising. This is the pain of tight muscles. The only thing that can get muscles back to their normal resting length is to (gently) stretch them back.
Do my muscles need to be looser?
Not everyone needs increased muscle length however you need to be careful to remove muscle tightness. There are a myriad of problems where a lack of controlled range is in large due to muscle tightness. For example, if your calves can’t extend to 30 degrees past neutral you are very likely to get Achilles tendonitis or plantar fasciitis. The flip side is that if your muscles are in a healthy state then you feel light on your feet and there are no areas of pressure or pulling as you walk, run or move through daily life.
What happens if I stretch poorly?
Painful stimuli causes muscles to react and contract. If you stimulate the muscle by stretching into pain you are teaching yourself to stay away from that muscle length. In fact you are probably stimulating the muscles to contract which will cause you to finish up with muscles that are even tighter than they were before you started! This is often what is happening with people that say “I stretch every day but never get any looser”.
What is the secret to stretching effectively?
- Be gentle! Whatever muscle you are concerned about needs to be taken to a position where you feel a gentle pull and definitely no pain! These positions are usually the same as the ones you are familiar with, just a lot more gentle.
- Here is the really important bit…..hold your stretch position until the feeling of stretch gets less!!!
- The longer you hold a stretch the more comfortable you should get. This is the feeling of muscles elongating and the critical part of effective stretching. If the stretch doesn’t ease you need to modify your position and do it more gently- If it doesn’t ease you haven’t done a stretch. It can seem strange, but you will get further by making a lot less effort! That is the way muscles work.
If you would like some assistance with your problems or want to discuss any aspects of your muscle or joint health or any aspect of stretching, come and see us at Back To Health Physiotherapy and we will be very happy to help you achieve your goals and help solve your musculoskeletal issues.