Stretching and Relieving Muscle Pain

In a recent CNN Health article, Dana Santas, author and a mobility coach in professional sports, discusses about the misconception of stretching to relieve muscle pains and tensions. “Driven by a pervading assumption that flexibility is the ultimate measure of joint health — and because stretching tends to feel good and takes relatively little effort — people frequently focus much more on stretching than strengthening.”

Flexibility is valuable, but it’s not the only consideration for optimizing joint function. Our joints set the foundation for movement by creating the capacity for your range of motion, and your muscles support joint action.Because functional joints require a combination of both mobility and stability, muscles need to be both flexible and strong to support joints properly.

Unfortunately, this imbalanced approach can lead to joint instability, chronic pain and increased risk of injury. And since stretching is often touted as a cure-all for pain, I have seen too many individuals get caught in an unhealthy, painful cycle in which they stretch even more to relieve the tension and pain that they are unwittingly increasing with their continued stretching.

– Dana Santas, a mobility coach in professional sports, on CNN Health

Dana argues that stretching can increase tension as it destabilize our joint. “Joints are unstable due to issues such as laxity, injury, hypermobility or misalignment, the body will generally compensate by tightening surrounding muscles to provide additional stability. This compensatory mechanism, known as protective tension, acts to protect you from going into a range of motion that your joint can’t support.”

Stretching is not the answer for all our muscle tensions, Dana suggests.

  • When stretching is not the answer: “Before using stretching as a quick fix for muscle tension, it’s important to ask yourself why you feel tight in the first place so you can determine if stretching isn’t advisable. Knowing the underlying cause of your discomfort will help you recognize protective tension and prioritize the most appropriate approaches, which could include strengthening and corrective exercise to increase stability and restore alignment.”
  • Performing breathing bridge: When there is a fear of injury from stretching, Dana suggests breathing bridge exercise. “This exercise works to restore pelvis position by strengthening the core and glutes while releasing tension in the hip flexors and low back. Although the hamstrings are actively working with the glutes to hold the bridge position, the posterior pelvic tilt relieves the lengthened tension on the hamstrings.”

A stable balanced approach

Stretching, a vital part of fitness, complements strength training by promoting joint health through muscle flexibility, says Dana. Dynamic stretching, brief stretches under 30 seconds, is ideal for warm-ups, such as in vinyasa yoga or or flowing yoga. Longer static stretches are recommended for cooldowns.

Dana says that when targeting specific issues like low back pain, a balanced approach of stretching and strengthening is crucial. Excessive stretching can lead to injury, highlighting the need to understand muscle tension’s interplay with strength and flexibility for overall well-being.