When stretching ISN’T the answer to your aches

“I suppose I should be stretching more” – is something I often hear from patients trying to figure out why they have on-going pain. But sometimes it’s not the best thing to do. 

 

Here’s why:

If you’re double jointed and super ‘bendy’, your flexibility can be a real asset in putting the rest of your yoga class to shame. Or for performing well if you’re into gymnastics or cheer leading. But that same advantage also makes joints more vulnerable to injury as they can move beyond a healthy limit, and especially if that movement is uncontrolled, sudden and under load.

Normally it’s your ligaments that prevent this, but with looser ones the control they can exert on the joint kicks in too late in the range of movement. They need an ally!

 

So strengthen & protect!

So what you really need to do is to work on controlling & protecting those joints by strengthening your muscles, especially near the end ranges of a joint’s movement where injury occurs. Practising controlled joint movements against resistance as well as more general toning up will help. But if you’re a serious sports competitor you’d probably do well to get some help specific to your activity.  

 

If you’re generally de-conditioned or inactive…

Weak muscles will feel tight after what seems like light work simply because it’s easier to overload a weak one than a strong one. Overloading a muscle makes it tight, tired and sore. This happens a lot with the postural muscles (think shoulders & upper back) during days of desk work, especially in people who haven’t been physically active for a long time.

Sure, a massage and some stretching will help up to a point, but you’ll be on a merry-go-round of soreness, stretching or massage until you either win the lotto & retire early, or condition those muscles & give them some relief during the working day with breaks and position changes.  

 

Injury

If you’ve got a disc problem in your lower back, then doing anything that involves bending your low back is likely to stress the disc even more. Similarly, a partially torn muscle is unlikely to appreciate your good intentions in the early days after injury. Nor are stretches useful for a muscle which has a worn and thinned tendon at one end if you have an obstinate tendon injury there. So no need to give up on stretching, but be aware that sometimes you may need to avoid specific ones .

Posted in Adults