A question we often field in the office is whether or not we should stretch certain muscle groups to aid our recovery and prevention of our typical ailments. That can be low back pain, neck and shoulder pain, midpack tightness, leg or knee pain, etc. If you’ve asked me this question before, you likely didn’t love my answer of, “It depends.”
Like many things health-related, one man’s medicine can be another’s poison. The same is true with stretching. Let’s take low back pain as a great example of this scenario. Should you stretch those hamstrings to relieve that low back pain? The answer really lies in the context of how you function. Are your hamstrings ACTUALLY tight, or is that just the manifestation of a problem elsewhere?
As most of you with low back pain can likely relate, I say often that the low back pain is present due to a problem above or below the pain. For instance, all too often I see inhibition (or “weakness”) of the glute muscles correlated with low back pain. What I also say often is that weakness somewhere is tightness elsewhere. So there’s a linear relationship. We have low back pain (the reason you see me). Below that, we often have glute weakness. And below that, we generally have tightness of the hamstrings and musculature along the side of the thigh. So our body will tighten up in certain areas to stabilize for weakness in other areas.
Stretching a muscle for a count of 30 seconds may feel like the right thing to do temporarily, but does close to nothing in resolving most problems. As a matter of fact, there’s some studies showing that stretching a muscle prior to activity actually WEAKENS the force that muscle can generate. For instance, high jumpers who stretch the calf muscles prior to a vertical jump consistently perform poorly compared to those that didn’t stretch at all.
So should you stretch? Sure. But I would encourage a more dynamic approach like yoga or other mobility work that involves movement. Please don’t stretch just to stretch. Have a purpose for any exercise you do. As always, you can ask us! Our goal is to keep you moving, pain free, and metabolically healthy!
Hope you enjoyed!