Stretching!… some people hate it & some love it. Now, if you are a client of Michigan Massage and Wellness, you know how much we LOVE stretching! Rebecca is a Level 2 Fascial Stretch Therapist, and once a week teaches people how to stretch through our weekly mobility classes. For those in pain stretching often feels good, however for some stretching doesn’t ease their pain. This often turns into trying to find that perfect stretch that will ease their pain or tightness as it once did. As a massage therapist I see this type of thing often, and get asked, “What stretches will help me, because the ones I am doing don’t get to my tightness?” (And my answer is likely going to be “book an FST session with me or come to a class”). I mean, read what Shirley had to say about her FST (Fascial Stretch Therapy) sessions:
There are a few things to understand to be able to answer this question:
1) What is the sensation of tightness?
2) What does stretching do?
3) Is stretching actually what you need?
What is the sensation of tightness?
What causes the perception of tightness is not well known, but in popular culture it is often thought of as “short” muscles. While this “short muscle” theory is a possibility, it is rare and only after some form of prolonged immobilization like a cast or prolonged bed rest, and in such cases one session of stretching does not show changes. So what most of us are likely feeling is an increase in muscle tone, or possibly a muscle who shouts “I AM STRETCHED TOO FAR” when it still has a lot more room to lengthen. As an analogy, imagine your car’s low fuel light would come on when you actually have half a tank left, there is still a lot further you can drive, but you would likely be nervous to go much further. That is part of the beauty of Fascial Stretch Therapy-we work with your resistance, and as Shirley from the testimonial above says “you go right to the edge of my tolerance level and then back off, you know just where to stop before it hurts”. It’s that FST magic, baby!
Why would this happen?… Well, our muscles have length receptors that actually can adjust the point at which they shout “STRETCH!” This point is set by your nervous system and some properties of your muscles (basically if you are warmed up this takes care of the muscle stuff). Additionally, your muscle tone (which is like the idle of your car) is controlled by your nervous system, and sometimes this idle runs high. SO, the take away point is – we have both muscle length sensors and muscle tone that can change based on our nervous system control. The most important point here is that it is changeable! And by adding in some PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation), we are able to use that to get the muscle to relax a bit and then stretch a little further.
What does stretching do?
Again there is a subtle difference between popular belief about stretching (“my muscle gets longer when I stretch”) and what actually happens, but usually the end result is you can go further before feeling stretch. When we stretch muscle length receptors get set to a new point and we can go further without the muscle shouting “STRETCH” (like the low fuel light has been set back to the point where your tank is actually close to empty). Interestingly we see that you don’t have to stretch for this to happen. You can foam roll your muscles, exercise the opposite muscle, “floss” your nerves or mobilize your low back (talk to your favorite massage therapist/Yoga TUne Up teacher about how to do these things) and you will see improved motion in the muscles of your legs. In fact, a recent study showed that if you foam roll one calf the motion of both ankles improves!?! Although ask me my opinions on foam rollers and my favorite mobility tools….This all suggests that these things help reset your nervous system control on your stretch point, and allows greater motion.
However, There are those that stretch and stretch and STRETCH, and never have the sensation that they can go further. What might be going on for them? If this is you, PLEASE read the next section!
Is stretching actually what you need?
There are those people that continue to stretch in the hopes of relieving their tightness without success, but all they can think of is to stretch due to the relentless tightness! So is there another way? Yes (otherwise this would be a very short blog)! Often people in this situation are very flexible despite feeling tight, or have a large difference in how far someone can move their body (i.e. an assisted stretch/passive range of motion) and how far they can actively move through range of motion (for example actively raising your leg, with its own muscles, into a hamstring stretch). Both of these things suggest that actually focusing on conditioning the muscles around the joint you want to move will help… but what does that mean? Here are a few examples:
- “Tight” hip flexors eased with glute endurance training
- Plantar fasciitis pain relieved from rolling out the calves
- Shoulder range of motion restored through stabilizing movements
So, just remember that while stretching is generally a great solution for pain, it’s not the only solution, and if you are stretching and stretching and stretching it might be time to focus a little more on stretching AND stabilizing.
Curious how to do that? Join us at one of our weekly mobility classes!
In good hands,
Rebecca Tamm, LMT