So I admit that stretching is not a commonly considered method of therapy. Most of the time the words stretching and pain don’t occur in the same sentence unless there’s also pulled or didn’t along with them. Typically when we think of pain most people think about avoiding movement or any kind of activity of the area that’s hurt. In truth though, this can be a bit counterproductive, especially in the post-acute stage of injury – right after the initial swelling and damage has been done, but before an injury has moved into a low-grade inflammatory state.
Stretching can do a surprising number of things to help with pain. First, stretching helps to improve circulation in the muscle areas that are stretched. This increase in circulation helps to reduce inflammation in swollen areas, and can help speed up the healing process by ensuring that painful tissues get fresh oxygen. Second, stretching also helps to loosen tight connective tissue and fascial adhesions. Stuck bands of fascia can cause achy pain and immobility that gentle movement and easy stretching can help work out. To help further with this, if you find a small painful knot of tissue, gently press into it when you stretch to increase the body’s ability to work it out.
A third benefit to stretching is that you can avoid compensation pain. We’ve all experienced this to some degree. Compensation pain is when you have one area of your body that gets injured and then you end up using another part of your body more to try and take the stress off the injured part. Sooner or later the part you’re adding stress on more starts to ache too. Well, stretching helps to ease the tension on your body that develops into compensation pain.
Now, with all these benefits there is one risk to stretching. Stretching can cause small tears and fatigue in muscles. So, if you’re going to stretch, it should be done after a workout or on its own, but not as a warm-up. Stretching before workouts actually increases the risk of muscle injury and sprains (it’s better to use a foam roller or do some light cardio instead). This should also be taken into account if you’re doing any kind of rehabilitation exercise, like those given by physical therapists.
So, when you next do your stretches, pay attention to areas with aches or pains. Give extra time to work the muscles in those areas. You might be pleasantly surprised to see what kind of improvement you get! And as always, if you need help understanding what to stretch or how best to do it, schedule your consultation and we can help you out.