Why You Can't Stretch Pain Away (and what to do instead!)
If I were to give you a choice to walk across one of 2 frozen lakes... On one the ice is only a few inches thick, and the other is frozen solid, which one would you choose? Oh yeah, and on the other side of the lake was your ability to do your favorite activity (running, crossfit, playing with your grandkids, hanging out with friends, watching the Dodgers win the world series, etc).
Which one would you feel more comfortable walking on?
Unless you are up for a wild ride, I'm guessing you are thinking the completely frozen lake.
Well, dealing with the demands of every day life with limited amounts of physical strength is like walking on a frozen lake, only the ice is just a few inches thick. On the other hand, having excess amounts of strength is like walking on a completely frozen lake.
I don't want to give too much away too early, but you may already have an idea of what the answer is to the title of this blog post is going to be...
Have you ever said, “I’ve been trying to stretch more, but it doesn’t seem to help much”?
Well, it might be because your problem isn’t a flexibility issue in the first place!
Typically, if we feel “tight”, it’s because a muscle group is having a hard time keeping up with the demands of life that are being placed on it.
If, for example, you are having back pain or tightness after sitting/standing for 5 minutes, or even after a 225 pound deadlift or 3 miles into a run, it can be due to the muscles not being strong enough or not ready for that amount of demand being placed on them.
And this goes for the shoulder, foot, knees, neck, etc. as well.
This pain or tightness feeling can just be your body telling you it can’t keep up with these demands due to a strength or movement issue.
Think to yourself and answer these 3 questions:
1. How long has this problem of yours been going on?
2. What have YOU done to improve it?
3. Why hasn’t it gotten better yet?
What are YOUR answers to these? Really think about it…
Often times pain and movement problems get pushed by the wayside in our healthcare world. They are poorly understood and covered up by an MRI result, a blanket diagnosis like muscle tears or disc bulges, and “fixed” with surgery, injections, pills or the passive advice to rest or stretch.
Unfortunately, these can lead to only temporary relief and frustrating results.
So what do we do if we should avoid rest, stretching, and other ineffective medical solutions?
Well, we need to get stronger, move better, and adopt the 4 Pillars of Health into our own life and habits.
If we don’t eat nutrient dense foods, aren’t recovering well with quality sleep, are chronically stressed so our nervous system is fried (ever heard of the fight or flight response?), and we aren’t moving well (or just enough in general), how can we possibly expect our body to function without pain, let alone optimally.
You can’t stretch that away.
But, with everything going on in the world right now, it can be really tough to take care of yourself.
It’s a very stressful time for many people. We aren’t getting much sleep, and this can certainly increase pain levels. We are more sedentary now, restricted to small social gatherings, and as social creatures, this can also increase pain levels. A lack of sleep can increase the want for small dopamine hits to our brain with more sugary and processed foods, we are less active with more Netflix, and the list goes on.
If pain is Our Human Alarm System, it’s been going off for a long time, and we’d better start to listen.
So what do we do?
First, we need to find out if we have a flexibility/mobility problem, or if we have a strength/movement problem. This is where a mentor or guide comes in.
I tend to see an overwhelming majority of a strength/movement problem with the patients and clients that come to see us at The Movement Schopp.
If we have a strength problem, it’s no wonder why stretching will only give us a temporary relief. You’re essentially stretching a muscle that is constantly being over worked already.
Also, when it comes to the 4 Pillars of Health, these are a great place to start:
Need to improve your diet? Increase your protein, fruit, & vegetable intake and remove sugars.
Need to decrease your stress? Try taking 5 slow, deep breaths to calm your nervous system.
Feel tight or stiff? Move more, drink more water, find a movement coach.
Need to improve your sleep? Create a nighttime routine and repeat the slow, deep breathing.
So, let’s recap.
If we have a group of muscles that can’t keep up with the demand placed on them from every day life or a workout, let’s not increase their strain by holding them in stretched positions for longer periods of time.
Instead let’s get them stronger together and give them the strength they need to not only keep up with the normal demands from everyday life, but even exceed them!
Let’s fix this problem the best way we know how: together.
If you have any specific questions or would like to schedule a free 15 minute call with us, please click here to fill out our contact form and we’ll get back to you ASAP.
Your health is in your hands, but we are always here to help. If you'd like to dive a little deeper into this topic, you can watch our short presentation on it here on our youtube channel.
Build A Better You!
Dr. William Schopp PT, DPT, CF-L1, Cert-CMFA