Most it not all sufferers of back pain, hip pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, plantar fasciitis, arm pain and leg pain at some point will experience the benefits of stretching the painful area. But how much help is stretching in the long term for different types of pain and is it the ultimate solution ?
If we are going to successfully unpack and examine the subject of stretching and it’s full benefits there is a primary question we need to keep in mind ….
‘ If some parts of me frequently require stretching where others don’t what is the reason those parts keep tightening up’ ?
I love stretching ! If we sit at a desk all day there is no question that the hamstrings at the back of our legs and our pecs at the front of the chest shorten over time which calls for regular stretching. But is there anything we can do to stop them tightening up in the first place ?
Another excellent example of someone who needs a good stretch is the ‘flat footed’ or unusually ‘high arched’individual who develops plantar fasciitis and / or hip and back pain. The repetitive strain of their feet coming down on concrete and tarmac 10,000 times a day is causing the connective tissue to tighten and boy does it need a good stretch if it’s being subjected to concrete year in & out. But is there anything they can do to take stress out of the connective tissue in the longer term ?
A lesser know reason many of us end up in need of a good stretch is the tendency to hold stress related tension in the body. This is a major cause of neck pain and headaches. Our habits of holding stress are often as repetitive as our desk bound sitting postures and the way our feet function. Habitual patterns of tension held in our muscles as reactions to ‘life’ lead to shortening of the muscles. I personally tend to hold stress in my neck and I know it feels very relieving when i stretch it … but how do I stop it tightening up in the first place ?
So what we are moving towards here are some ways of approaching our pain that at least aim to be more sophisticated than a cycle of letting ourselves get bound up and repeatedly stretching out that contraction…..
SOLUTION 1 – for sitting
A great way to prevent the gradual stiffening of the hamstring that comes with a lot of sitting is to lock the leg straight. Do the legs 1 at a time whilst still sitting and hold them locked straight for 30 seconds. Do this at least once for every 30 minutes of desk work. The act of straightening the leg and clenching the quadriceps ( thigh muscle ) deactivates the shortened hamstring and causes it to relax slightly.
Repeating this straight leg lock as a matter of habit will lead to less tightening of the hamstring – reducing the likelyhood of strains in times of activity and the need for stretching.
SOLUTION 2 – for foot problems
For sufferers of foot pain, hip pain and plantar faciitis who need to stretch a lot there are ways of stopping this build up of tightness. The easiest way to stop the build up of tightness in the foot, hip and calf is to wear flexible custom orthotics. Custom orthotics mimic what natural surfaces do for the foot by offering a flexible shock absorption for the arch… something that hard flat surfaces like concrete do not provide.
For those of you who suffer crippling pains like hip pain and plantar fasciitis but work in a corporate environment be advised that at my clinic we can easily prescribe orthotics that comfortably fit any shoe.
SOLUTION 3 – for stress
Chronic patterns of muscle tension that tend to manifest in busy people often cause tightness in the chest, back and neck. Unlearning these habitual patterns of tension is I hope an easier journey for you you ham it has been for me but even if it is you more than likely have your work cut out.
I recommend you use a float tank regularly to help you ‘unlearn your habits of holding tension in the body. Float tanks are large pods filled with water and epsom salts in which you can completely relax in a weightless state. One of the many benefits of floating is that it becomes possible to tune into your habits of tension more easily which for many of us is enough to make us stop being so tense. Being in the tank is also like deep meditation so it has an inherently de-stressing effect on the bodies muscles.
So there we have it ! Stretching is good ! But not stressing our muscles and fascia to the point where they rely heavily on stretching is GREAT!