Episode 7 - What kind of stretches Should I do?

January 24th 2018 |

Muscles can become tight for many different reasons. Our posture causes some muscles to be held in a shortened position and other muscles to be held in a lengthened position. Both of these muscle groups can feel 'tight'. We are trained to believe that if a muscle feels tight it is because it is in a shortened position; stretch it and it will automatically feel better. Unfortunately, it's not always that simple. Relatively speaking, muscles are a bit like elastic. Think of an elastic band. When you pull it from both ends it stretches and we call that tight. Are our muscles any different? We'll yes in a sense they are a bit. I'll get there though. Let's take an example to explain this further.

Imagine someone you know whose head sits way in front of their shoulders. You could say they are in a stooped type posture. People with a head in this position often have neck or back pain. If the human head weighs around 4-5kg that’s a lot of force pulling on the muscles in the back of the neck and down the back. These muscles on the back of the neck and down the back are in a stretched position. We sometimes in physiotherapy call that 'stretch weak'. The muscles are having to work too hard because they are subject to greater force and they become sore and 'tight'. What we do most of the time is stretch these very muscles but then aren't we stretching what is already stretched? Perhaps we are. Remember, the pain isn't always where the problem is. When we look at the other side of the story, the poor muscles in the front of the neck and in the front of the body are being held in a shortened position. These muscles adapt to this position and become stiff. Think of this like holding a fist all day. By the end of the day your fist would find it difficult to open out again.

So, what should you do about it? We'll, the first thing to do is to consider whether the body is in the right position or not? If your posture isn't balanced properly then something will be short and that can certainly cause it to adapt and stay in that shortened position, or something else can be stretch weak. The head should sit on top of the shoulders, the back should never be straight but not too bent either and the side of the pelvis should sit roughly over the centre of the ankle. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Changing posture is not easy and you need to work at it over time. If you achieve good posture, you stretch the muscles that have been held short and relax the muscles that are stretch weak.

There is old research that suggests all we need to do to stretch is hold a position for 30 seconds once a day. 30 seconds is a nice time to hold a stretch but I think that we need to stretch more frequently than that. We regularly get back to old habits because of modern demands such as sitting at a desk or driving for a long time. If you are in a specific position that you know isn't perfect posture, try to get out of that position as often as you can. If you can't get out of that position for whatever reason, make sure you stretch afterwards to offset what has just happened to your body.

Identifying the short stiff muscles and then stretching those ones is often the key to reducing pain. One nice way to counteract the demands of modern life is to lie long ways on a foam roller (so the roller runs from the base of your spine to the back of the head and then holding the arms out to each side. This opens through the chest muscles and it is a really nice position to do some deep breathing techniques; a nice way to stretch and relax at the same time.

If you want to find out where your posture lets you down or what stretches you should to do to help reduce your pain, give us a call on 01595692727 or email admin@injuryshetland.co.uk.

Ross Smith

Physiotherapist

www.injuryshetland.co.uk