“Should I stretch more?” - In the world of orthopedics, the answer given to this question is usually a resounding “YES”… but the answer is not that simple.
From Physicians and Physical Therapists all the way to Coaches and Personal Trainers - the consensus is that stretching should be part of your regular health routine…but none can agree which stretches are necessary, how often…and most importantly - WHY????
Well - why does anyone stretch? Usually because a muscle feels restricted, and so by pulling on that muscle, at least for a little while, it allows that muscle to move more- right?
Problem is: that relief usually doesn’t last.
Here’s the thing - if you need to keep doing the same thing (anything, including stretching) over and over just to “maintain” your body’s ability to function - that’s more of a ‘band-aid’ approach, not a solution!
The reality is, there are three main reasons that a muscle doesn’t allow motion, the muscle is Short OR Stiff OR Tight.
Two of these will respond well to stretching. The other case is more damaging and costly.
Muscles that are truly short in length will respond very well to many types of stretching (static, active, dynamic). In these cases, a goal of treatment needs to be to lengthen that muscle!
The issue: short muscles are not common.
Examples of when a muscle is typically shortened involve long periods of time (weeks, months) where motion is greatly limited and the muscle progressively adapts to a shortened position. This could be a result of bracing or casting a joint…or being restricted to bed rest.
A more common reason for loss of motion and mobility is having Stiff muscles. These muscles are actively adapting to limited movement - like sitting behind a desk for 8+ hours per day. Stiffness can also be a sign of healing - such as from a strain, or recovering from a workout. They tend to feel like they lengthen more like taffy, rather than a rubber band.
Either way, stiff muscles are a good example of why it is important to have a specific warmup before activity to prevent (further) injury. Muscles that are stiff will respond well to active or dynamic stretching, but can also benefit from self-massage (like foam rollers and vibration guns).
Tight muscles are very common. These muscles are routinely stretched, but it never really “fixes” the tightness problem. This is usually because the muscle is protecting something! When a fragile tissue (like a nerve) is at risk for damage through a specific movement, the body will prevent that movement by using the surrounding muscles.
In the (extremely common) example of tight hamstrings, a careful evaluation will often reveal that the Sciatic nerve doesn’t move very well at the hip or knee…so the hamstrings will automatically engage to protect that nerve from being stretched and damaged!
This is why stretching can sometimes be harmful.
When stretching a muscle that is trying to protect something else…you are essentially reducing that protection! Instead, by addressing the mobility of the underlying tissue (like a nerve) the need for the tight muscle goes away…for good!
At Move Physio, your Physio Doc will determine the cause of your mobility issue and develop an effective plan during your Consultation. This is where we extensively review your history and develop connections that led to your current issues.
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