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Dr. Arnan Sisson PT/ Aug 22, 2022
How many times have you said, “I need to stretch more”? We hear this all of the time from new clients who tell us, “I probably wouldn’t be in so much pain if I stretched more, or more regularly,” or “I keep stretching but the pain doesn’t go away.”
So, why do you feel like you need to stretch more? Did a doctor, personal trainer, coach, or authority figure tell you so? Has Dr. Google or YouTube told you so?
I am here to tell you: you probably don’t need to stretch more!
Tightness is similar to the pain signal our body gives us, it’s a warning signal from our bodies to change something about the way we move or live our daily lives. Tightness does not always mean that your muscle is short, or lacking mobility. Yes, sometimes your muscles can be short, and you could benefit from stretching. However, if you love yoga, or have a normal stretching routine, your muscles probably aren’t short.
A great example of this is hamstring tightness! We hear a lot of people complain about their hamstrings feeling tight. So how do you know if your hamstrings are short and need stretching, or just feel tight, and need something else? Try to touch your toes! Stand up straight with both feet together, keep your knees completely straight, and try to touch your toes. Can you touch your toes?
If you can, your hamstrings probably are not short, and do not need to be stretched. If you are like most yogis that walk into our clinic and can place both palms on the floor, then stretching is probably NOT what you need.
Now, if you struggled to touch your toes, there could be a couple things that you need to work on. The first is hamstring length, and stretching might help, but it might not.
There are several types of stretching, and it is important to know which type of stretching will work best for you.
There are also other ways to gain muscle length WITHOUT stretching, and your body might respond better to another method, and you might see better results than constantly stretching. The second thing that you might need to work on is low back mobility. It is also important to know that once you give your body more mobility, you need to strengthen within that new range of motion. If you don’t use it, you lose it!
If you are someone who can touch your toes, but still feel hamstring tightness, what do you need to work on? Since your hamstrings have all of the length that they need, you likely need to work on stability.
Sometimes your body shortens your range of motion when it doesn’t feel safe using the full range of motion as a way of protecting you.
Your hamstrings have the length that they need, but your body is hesitant to use all of that length when you bend forward because it feels unstable and unsafe, so it gives you the tightness signal as your hamstrings lengthen. This can also happen in your neck when you rotate your head to look left and right, or also in your shoulder when you reach overhead or behind your back, but the hamstrings example is usually the easiest to explain and understand.
Sometimes the lack of stability can limit your neck and shoulder range of motion, and feel like neck tightness, or shoulder tightness (sometimes misdiagnosed as frozen shoulder!). We see a lot of folks in our clinic who have been diagnosed with frozen shoulder, who actually just had some rotator cuff tightness.
One woman we treated recently was struggling with what she thought was frozen shoulder, and was having trouble getting dressed, doing her hair, and carrying groceries. We worked on some tightness in her shoulder, and gave her some exercises to help her build stability, and suddenly her shoulder was “unfrozen”, and she could get dressed, do her hair, and keep up with her kids without pain!
Just to be clear, stretching is not bad for your body.
It can feel great and be relaxing, which is beneficial for your mind and body. However, to treat your pain and tightness, stretching might not be what you need to fix the problem and reach your goals. Even if stretching is what you need, it should be carefully selected for the specific muscles that your body needs to work on. It should only take five to ten minutes maximum, and then should allow you to move better afterwards in daily life, and in your activities like: lifting weights, walking, swimming, biking, hiking, playing with your grandkids, etc.
We are currently offering FREE Discovery Visit. During this visit, we look at how your body moves head to toe, and hear more about your goals, and help you figure out WHY you feel tight, or WHY stretching has not helped, and tell you how you can get rid of pain and tightness so that you can reach your goals.
If this sounds like something that you would be interested in, go ahead and apply on our website, or give us a call at (804) 493-3256 to learn more!