Ever been told to prevent or treat pain and injury by stretching more? The old school thought that stretching is relaxing and therapeutic for tight muscles is not only a misconception but it’s not proven!
The idea of stretching is like a VCR, an obsolete form of technology. As technology develops and brings forth new information, we find new adaptations of what is actually good for us.
What is Static Stretching Good For?
On my journey as a body healer, I’ve been subjective with the information I’ve learned in order to bring clients back from injury and pain to liberated, happy, healthy, and functioning.
Based on new research, static or passive stretching (“stretch and hold”) is at best good for absolutely nothing and could actually do more harm than good.
Dynamic, active, or resistance stretching promotes natural movements and range of motion of joints and muscles and is the preferred route to take.
"Resistance Stretching", an Oxymoron
A resistance stretch keeps muscles engaged as a stretch-like movement is performed. This allows muscles to be in control and the contraction allows the brain or nervous system to connect and feel safe. A passive stretch is very vulnerable for muscles and without a contraction can be pushed past end ranges, resulting in damaged and weakened fast twitch muscle fibers. Meaning, the nervous system needs to feel in control in order for flexibility gains to be achieved!
If your lifestyle requires you to be in the splits from time to time, or to put your legs behind your head, then specific movement training is necessary. However, such extreme positions are not necessary to achieve optimal daily health and fitness.
Don't Take My Word for It
I’m not a scientist or a physician, merely a Somatic practitioner passionate about helping people accomplish pain free lives by applying current research with proven actions that are good and healthy for the body, all the while keeping it simple. I’ve read studies by brilliant scientist and physicians, including:
- Dr. Steve Gangemi, aka: the sock doc. A chiropractic physician who specializes in natural injury prevention for athletes.
- Jill Miller, the inventor of my favorite self-care product on the market Yoga tune up therapy Balls. And the creator of the Roll model method.
- Anne Tierney, Co-Creator of Ki Hara resistance stretch method.
- Malachy McHugh, the director of research at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital who said, “The straining muscle becomes less responsive and stays weakened for up to 30 minutes after stretching, which is not how an athlete should begin a workout.”
Additionally, a study by the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Texas compared stretched and non-stretched muscles within the same person and found static stretching (therefore weakening and damaging) the hamstrings on the left leg had the exact same effect on the right leg that was never stretched!
This happens through a central nervous system inhibitory mechanism that kicks in when a limb needs to compensate for a damaged limb. When a part of our body can’t operate fully everything has to help out compromising its own job as well as causing, you guessed it, more damage throughout the WHOLE body.
Q&A: Dynamic vs. Static Stretching
If static stretching is bad, why does it feel good?
Nerves like to be stretched to a certain degree. The same neurological mechanism makes it pleasurable to move and painful not to move. But like moving, it needs to be done with control and knowledge or damage might occur.
Why do I feel looser after static stretching?
A static stretched position hurts but you keep it up until the pain subsides, and when your done it stops hurting or feels “looser”. Recent studies by the Rolf Institution of Structural Integration (mixed in with theories derived from my own research) suggest the brain is actually protecting us from assuming further damage by providing a numbing effect when damage is caused deliberately on the body.
The brain is surrendering, saying “Okay, since you’re doing that, I take it that no matter how much pain receptors I send to try to get you to knock it off, you’ll just keep continue! So, to save me from more damage, the only option is to shut off the pain receptors!”
Why does the pain not only come back but often times worse or even in a whole new or larger spot?
Or, the same stretch you’ve done before doesn’t work as well the next time so you must go deeper or harder to get the same result? Think of painful stretching like building a tolerance to a medicine that you’ve taken to often.
If stretching causes muscle weakness, why don’t I feel weak after stretching?
As stated earlier, when a muscle is too week to do its own job, other muscles kick in to compensate causing the over worked muscles to feel tight, and the weakness to go unnoticed.
With muscle imbalance you’ll easily feel what’s tight but it’s much harder to notice weakness until it starts effecting a joint. The damage in the tissue from over compensation manifests as a trigger point. Which will refer pain to a joint. Ever get pain or injury that manifests seemingly out of nowhere?
If not static stretching, then what are we to do?
Not all forms of “stretching” are bad, but all require some level of skill to remain safe. For sore, achy muscles and general tension, self-care remedies work best, such as the “Roll Model” by Jill Miller or self-massage, applying comfortable (not painful!) deep pressure in a circular motion for a few seconds at a time.
At the end of the day, do your research and find a passionate, qualified practitioner whose methods and field of study make sense to fit your needs on your path to health and happiness.
Namaste and Happy Moving!