When you have muscle and/or joint pain, stretching routines are not always the way to improve your condition. Although they are often recommended, in a lot of cases they do not show any results or can even worsen your condition. This is very unfortunate and mostly due to a lack of understanding about the subject of stretching.
It may be that your muscles are so hypersensitive and irritated that they react to any elevation of tension with pain – which is also the reason why they give you pain when you use them –. When you do the stretches correctly but still get pain from them, it just makes no sense to perform them for now.
I will show you when stretching is counterproductive and how to apply it correctly. If done properly, stretching absolutely can better you muscle and joint pain.
In the vast majority, muscle and joint pain goes hand in hand with excessive muscle tension. Stretching involves an “elongation”/stretch of the worked muscle. Thus it creates mechanical tension – especially when you stretch “hard” –. That means if you are trying to work very tight muscles with stretching you are trying to fight fire with fire. Although it is paradox, under certain circumstances it can work. I will explain that to you in just a minute.
Your nervous system regulates your muscle tension and stretching routines work because they act on it. When you stretch your muscles, there is an elevation in tension. You can feel that when entering a stretch. The more tension there is, the stiffer you will feel.
However, if you enter a stretch for a longer period of time, your nervous system will recognize unnecessary tension and will release it.
Additionally, through stretching you can pull trigger points “apart” and thus get rid of them. But avoid going too hard as this can reactivate them.
With stretching you can tackle excessive muscle tension and trigger points, but only if you are doing it correctly.
There are a couple of things you should concentrate on while doing your stretching routines.
If you go too fast, you will confuse your muscle spindles – receptors in your muscles that detect its current length –. The increase of muscle tension will be unexpected and your muscle spindles will counteract. The result is a slight contraction of the muscle, which you do not want right now. It is a reflex and hinders stretching.
The same will happen if you are going to stretch beyond you current capabilities. Do not push yourself too hard. The key is relaxation, and not the creation of tension.
All this will not happen if you enter stretching positions slowly as you will not “confuse” the muscle spindles.
Correct breathing is one of the most important factors for successful stretching.
Your breathing acts on your nervous system and is capable of regulating your muscle tension. Deep and slow abdominal breathing – 6 breaths per minute – "calms" the part of your nervous system which is responsible for elevations in muscle tension by creation of a parasympathetic predominance.
So, try to breathe deep and calm during your stretching routines, and it will be easier for you to relax the muscles you are working on. This way, you are taking advantage your bodily capabilities to relax.
This leads me right to the next factor which will influence strongly the success of your stretching. You can just stretch, or you stretch while contracting antagonistic muscles – e.g. when doing the straddle, which stretches your hamstrings, you would contract your thighs–.
When you contract the muscles of one side of a joint, the muscles at the other side let go in order not to hinder the other muscle to perform its work – e.g. your triceps lets go when your biceps bends your elbow –.
That means, if you contract your thighs while doing the straddle, your body will let go of some of the tension in your hamstrings – which you are working on in the straddle –. Thus, it fosters relaxation in the muscles you are stretching.
You can further support your stretching routines by concentrating on the feel of stretch and the area of the most tension. Voluntary release some of this tension by plainly concentrating on it. Try it, it really works. Especially, if you combine your concentration with the breathing and contraction of antagonistic muscle groups.
Generally spoken, you can do it if you are able to imply the information I just gave you, and if it does not aggravate your condition. Mostly, this is the case when your muscle or joint pain has already soothed a little bit. But remember, you are always the person in charge.
On the other hand when your pain is bad but you feel that stretching helps you, go ahead! It is just my experience that the best is to start out with stretching after some weeks of preliminary massage and relaxation work.
Enter stretching positions slowly
If all that info about stretching routines was too much for you, please do not worry. All stretching exercises presented on Painotopia will imply all the information you need. And of course, I will remind you there of all the things I stated here.