Do you feel that stretching helps relieve your pain or muscular tightness?
This is a question I ask many of my Physical Therapy patients, and their answers are sometimes surprising. Many of my patients will often answer that they don’t feel relief after their stretches. They’ll even tell me that they don’t feel a stretch (even with correct form), yet continue to complain of muscle tightness.
Confused? You’re not the only one.
It’s possible that you are blessed with “ligament laxity” and might be a member on the Hypermobility Spectrum. This means that your connective tissue (such as ligaments and tendons) is a bit more stretchy than other individuals. Many people that are on the Hypermobility Spectrum are double jointed, but as it is a “spectrum” issue, the amount of ligament laxity can vary from person to person. So even though you might not be experiencing joint dislocations or subluxations, you could still be considered “hypermobile”.
How does ligament laxity affect stretching?
When you are hypermobile, the ligaments and tendons will stretch first before you can even feel a stretch in the tight muscle. This means you could be in a “full stretch”, but most of the pull is coming from the ligaments and tendons. This is why many of my patients complain that their stretches are ineffective.
What to do instead?
I have found that there are many tools to help relieve muscular tightness for my patients instead of stretching. I instruct my patients to try:
· muscle roller sticks
· foam rollers
· trigger point release balls
· cupping therapy
· massage guns
· massage techniques
· instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization tools (IASTM or massage tools)
This allows the pressure to be applied better to the muscle to help the tissue relax. While these techniques can be painful when first applied, my patients notice a significant difference in their pain levels and muscular tightness. When they continue using these tools long term, they are able to be more active and progress their strength to return to their active lifestyles. So if you are finding that stretching is not effective for you, give the tools a try instead.
What to do next?
While stretching or tissue release is only one piece of the puzzle when recovering from an injury, it’s important to strengthen appropriate muscles. It’s likely that some of this tightness began because muscles started getting lazy or weak over time which resulted in other muscles to compensate. To ensure you are recovering appropriately, it’s important to reach out to fitness professionals (i.e., Physical Therapists, Chiropractors, Athletic Trainers, Personal Trainers, Strength and Conditioning Coaches) or other health professionals to avoid future injuries.
- Dr. Jessica Shiyomura, PT, DPT
Doctor of Physical Therapy