Stretch My Dear - And This is Why!
I am one of those people who is active but not regimented with my workout routine or schedule. I do what I fancy - at the time that is. I like the outdoors. Sometimes I run, hike, bike, circuit train, yoga, swim, ski. However I have often found that I will start a workout routine and then I get injured. Pain can be a huge deterrent in me sticking to my plan.
Who wants to run when you feel pain with every step?
Who wants to do pushups if my shoulder is in agony?
So what is the solution then? Stop exercising?
I don’t think so!
I look back to my past when I was a young kid. I grew up in India and there was a park right across my home, where in the summer we had yoga classes. My father and I would take tapestry rugs and go for yoga every morning. Most of the participants were adults, except my cousin and I. Being young, we were more flexible and limber and would often be asked to demonstrate the yoga asanas and postures to the others, who would then try to emulate us.
It was great to be young, limber, flexible, strong and pain free.
Over the years, I lost the habit of regular stretching and started noticing different aches and pains with different activities. I stopped running - I labelled myself a walker. I stopped dragon boating. I stopped enjoying boot camps as my low back or shoulder hurt. I was getting disappointed with myself and then I rediscovered stretching, and not just stretching, fascial stretching.
With regular stretching I am noticing how I am able to move better, perform better, and feel stronger. Not only that, I generally experience less or no pain when performing an activity.
I have worked in the health care industry for ten years and see and treat people with a variety of musculoskeletal issues. In my experience, the most common complaint people have is of tightness, pain and limited range of motion.
It does not matter whether people are active or inactive, young athletes, office workers or seniors, they can experience pain and limited range of motion for different reasons. Sometimes there may be neurological issues, trauma or degeneration but a large percentage of cases are because of tension in the muscles and fascia.
Fascia is the fibrous connective tissue that envelopes all our muscles, nerves, blood vessels and bones. It is the protective layer below our skin that connects the top of our head to the bottom of our feet. There are many fascial networks in our body - front, back, side, spiral, and if there is tension or a knot in one area, it can cause pain and impact the mobility and circulation in a whole zone.
I notice that people from different walks of life can have similar issues. For example, a person with a desk job may have neck and shoulder pain because they are hunched over their computer all day long. However, a painter may have neck and shoulder pain because they spend their day looking up and painting walls.
People with active life styles can still have tight muscles because of overuse of certain muscles. For example, a runner can have tight quads and hip flexors but a person with a desk job can also have tight hip flexors because they are always sitting.
Staying in one position for too long can cause your fascia to tighten and get restrictive. These restrictions can cause impingement in the joint or muscle imbalances around the joint and cause pain.
Having been light to moderately active for most of my adult life, and working out with coaches and trainers, I noticed that the fads are all about doing cardio, strength training, high intensity interval training, boot camps, power yoga but hardly anyone focused on stretching all the muscle groups.
When you exercise and work on muscle groups, the muscles and the connective tissue (fascia) surrounding them contracts. If you don’t do antagonistic exercises or stretching after, the fascia will get tight and reduce your flexibility and cause pain.
There are many great modalities to help reduce that spasm or improve your range of motion like massage, acupuncture, physiotherapy. However, it is very important to have self discipline and stretch your fascia and muscles.
I sincerely believe if everyone incorporated a regular stretching routine into their lives they would not experience as much pain.
Benefits of stretching:
- Break down scar tissue build up
- Mobilize the fascia and the tissues out of their contracted position
- Improve your workout performance
- Improve your muscle balance
- Help you get stronger, limber and faster
- Improve your range of motion
- Reduce pain
How does one stretch?
Most people know some basic stretches but only do stretching in one plane of movement.
When doing a stretch, try to think of the joint and stretch it in every plane of movement. Just like in yoga, invoke your diaphragmatic breath work when you feel super tight during your stretch and you will find that you can go a few degrees further.
I have recently learnt a technique called Fascial Stretch Therapy which I would encourage all readers to seek and try. This is how it works -
The client (wearing sports clothes) lies on a massage table.
The therapist will do traction in every plane of movement using their body weight.
When the therapist feels that the fascia is tight, they will ask the client to breathe deeper, while doing traction and the muscle and fascia softens and their range of movement is increased by a few degrees.
After a full session of Fascial Stretch therapy, you will feel like all the tightness and tension has dissipated from your body. It is kind of similar to how you would feel when you get out of your tight jeans and wear a pair of sweat pants. I have been using this technique stand alone, or in conjunction with acupuncture to help my patients and we are all loving the results.
I can say with confidence that anyone who incorporates a stretching routine into their workout or lifestyle will definitely have a reduction in pain and improvement in performance.
Any questions, please feel free to ping me!