Why I don’t always stretch for pain

Sounds odd right? Don’t stretch if you are in pain?

Ok let me explain why. When we stretch we are usually doing so to increase the flexibility in our muscles and sometimes with the intention of trying to release a tight muscles that could be causing us pain. Ok that all sounds sensible and a very valid reason to stretch.

However, what if those muscles that are tight are actually tight because your brain is trying to protect you? Maybe those muscles don’t need a stretch. Have you ever had a massage or had a good old stretch only for you to end up in MORE pain or feel disconnected from your body?

Well that’s your body letting you know it’s either not sure what to do or it’s trying to tighten those muscles back up. What are you to do then if you’re in pain, you have a tight XYZ and you feel you need to stretch it to release the tension?

Here’s where your brain plays a massive role!

Instead of taking your XYZ into a position of stretch, take it to a position where there is no stretch. No tension, you should actually feel nothing. It’s easy, and most importantly, your brain doesn’t think you are about to do anything. If there is the slightest bit of pain, ease off until there is no pain, not even a little bit.

Now focus on your breath. Nice and slow and deep. Close your eyes, everything should be relaxed as fully as possible. Do this for around 3-5 times.

On that last out breath, see if you can carefully and gently take your XYZ to the next point. Again, stretch, no stress, no nothing. Repeat the breathing and repeat the process one more time.

To return, again use that out breath, take it slow and steady. You actually shouldn’t feel like you have actually done anything at all!

Time to assess, but be careful as we don’t want to shock the body. See if your range is better. If this has worked you may find you can go a little further without pain.

What just happened?

Well this theory is taken from a massage technique where usually the therapist would be doing the moving for you. However, you can learn to do it yourself to some degree.

Firstly by allowing the body to fully relax, we are telling the brain that we are all good. We spend a lot of time in flight or fight. This means our bodies are exposed to stress, even on a low lying level, it thinks we either need to run from the tigers or try and fight them. By relaxing and not causing any kind of muscle response, our brain will now think we are fed and resting, no danger, no tigers.

Secondly, by focusing on our breath we are re-enforcing that calmer state in the body. Less stress, means less tension. When we are preparing to run away or fight tigers our body will hold some amount of tension ready to act.

Thirdly, by then moving without that stretch or tension, we are essentially tricking the brain to allow us to move more. It doesn’t recognise that there is a potential for pain or danger and so doesn’t send that signal to the muscle to make us stop.

Clever right?

I have found in my practice that this works very well for vulnerable places such as backs and necks, but the theory could be applied anywhere.

Go ahead and try it and see what happens. Can you increase your stretch or range?


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