Myth Busters: You Can Never Stretch Too Much
One of the most efficient ways to get sciatica pain relief or increase your flexibility is to stretch regularly. However, many people don’t truly understand the science behind stretching and often fall for some of the most common myths about it. If you don’t know the whole truth, you won’t get the relief you need – or possibly worsen your pain.
Common Stretching Myths
There’s more to stretching than just pulling on a tight or aching muscle. We’ve heard and read about ways to stretch correctly from other sources, but many of them are actually myths! How many of you are familiar with the following tips or statements regarding stretching?
- You should always stretch before a workout
- Everyone should do the same type of stretch
- You should hold a stretch for at least 15 seconds
- You can never overstretch
- Stretching will prevent injury
- You should feel some discomfort when stretching
- Stretching lengthens your muscles and ligaments
These are only some of the common ones we hear, and many of our clients believe them. Then they wonder why they aren’t finding relief from their aching back or that their neck pain is getting worse. Fortunately, we’re here to bust those myths, so you can stretch correctly and finally live a pain-free life. Let’s go into more detail about each false statement.
Should You Stretch Before Physical Activity?
This statement has some truth to it. You’ve probably done standing leg stretches before exercising in your PE class, but you should really be warming up with dynamic stretches. It’s much safer to stretch warm muscles since they’re more relaxed and have a better range of motion. Having said that, you’ll want to do a short, sufficient warm-up before exercising. Stretch a few minutes into your workout and once more after you finish.
Should Everyone Perform the Same Type of Stretch?
With several different ways to perform a stretch, there’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all approach. Some types are more beginner-friendly, and others should only be done under a professional’s supervision. As we previously mentioned, you’ll also want to do specific stretches before a workout and another kind after.
Here are some of the more common types of stretches:
Static stretching is one of the safest ways to stretch. It involves pulling the target muscle until you feel a gentle stretch, then you’ll hold the position for a few breaths. Static stretches shouldn’t cause pain and are mostly for enhancing a person’s flexibility.
Static stretching can also be active, passive, or isometric. During a static-active stretch, the position is held using the strength of your agonist muscle. A static-passive stretch is where you hold the position with the assistance of a practitioner. An isometric stretch involves resisting muscle groups by tensing the stretched muscles.
A dynamic stretch involves movement while stretching your muscles. They’re commonly performed during a warm-up to an exercise, preparing your muscles for the stress they’re about to undergo. You make active movements to stretch your muscles to their full range of motion during a dynamic stretch.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)
The PNF technique is generally used to increase a person’s range of motion and flexibility. It involves both stretching and contracting the target muscle. It’s an advanced method and can be dangerous if you do them improperly. It’s always best to perform PNF stretches under the supervision of a professional trainer or stretch practitioner.
Different forms of PNF stretches are contract-relax, hold-relax, and rhythmic initiation.
Ballistic stretching is possibly one of the most dangerous methods of stretching. It involves stretching the muscle beyond its range of motion and bouncing into and out of the position as if the muscles were like springs. You should never try to attempt ballistic stretching on your own. It should be done carefully and under the supervision of a professional trainer or stretch practitioner.
How Long Should You Hold a Stretch?
Some people say to hold a stretch for as little as 10 seconds, and others say to do it for up to 3 minutes. In reality, it simply depends on the type of stretch you’re doing and your comfort level. Today, many experts believe holding a stretch for 15 to 30 seconds is sufficient.
Generally, you’ll want to spend more time on an area if you need to immediately release the stretch after getting into the position. It’s also crucial to allow your body to relax into the position as your brain registers that you won’t hurt yourself. Finally, you should know your limits. You know you’ve held a stretch for too long if coming out of it is painful.
Can You Overstretch?
Absolutely! Do not listen to anyone who says “no pain, no gain” regarding stretching. You most definitely can stretch a muscle too far, and you’ll know because it’ll start to become painful. You’re also increasing your risk of an injury by stretching your muscles way beyond their normal range of motion.
Below are a few of the dangers you could encounter by overstretching:
Your joints become hypermobile when they can extend far beyond their normal range of motion too easily. Some people already have hypermobility in their joints, which you may recognize as being double-jointed. Although it’s not always a threat, people with hyperextended joints can suffer from unfortunate side effects like:
- Recurrent injuries
- Frequently dislocated joints
- Pain or stiffness
- Clicking joints
- Digestive problems
Your Muscles will Look Lax
Your ligaments become too loose if you overstretch, which will lead to looser joints. The ligaments that secure major joints like your hips and knees will not bounce back in shape after they’ve been overstretched. As a result, your muscles and skin will appear thin and stretchy rather than toned.
You Could Risk Tears
Overstretched muscles and unstable tissues in a joint can increase your risk of getting microscopic or full tears. Muscles that are too loose allow your joints to move freely, and the increased range of motion will put too much stress on them. When the muscle doesn’t support your joints, you’re greatly increasing your risk of an injury.
You’re at an Increased Risk of Arthritis
A long-term danger of overstretching can be an increased risk of developing arthritis. This happens because of the wear and tear on the cartilage, the tough and flexible tissue that covers the joints’ surface. Damaged cartilage can cause joint pain, swelling, and stiffness.
It Impairs Your Physical Performance
If you’re an athlete with overstretched muscles, it can harm on your performance. Over time, you’ll no longer be able to make smooth movements, and your reaction time will decrease. As a result, your body will use up more energy to try and compensate.
Stretching to Prevent Injury
Have you heard some people say stretching can prevent you from ever getting injured? That’s not entirely true! Stretching improves your flexibility and range of motion, which can be beneficial for certain activities and counterproductive for others. While stretching does not necessarily prevent an injury, it can decrease your risk of one by increasing your proprioceptors’ tolerance for motion and eliminating pain.
Discomfort When Stretching
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. If a stretch becomes painful, you’re going too far! You should feel a gentle pull while holding a stretch, and you’ll find your flexibility and range of motion increasing gradually the more often you do it. You never want to feel discomfort when you stretch – otherwise, you could overstretch your muscle and possibly hurt yourself.
Can Stretching Make You Taller?
We hate to be the bearer of bad news but stretching does not make you taller. Many people think simple stretching can make your muscles and tendons longer, but it’s impossible to lengthen them permanently. Instead, your body’s protective response activates to prevent a muscle from overstretching and getting injured. The activity can temporarily elongate your muscles by moving muscle fibers, but it won’t last long.
Other Fun Facts About Stretching!
Now that we’ve busted some of the common myths about stretching, we wanted to share some interesting facts, including the benefits of regularly stretching. It’s well in your advantage to know how your body works and why stretching can help you feel better.
Stretching Can Improve Your Posture
If you have poor alignment, stretching is a great way to strengthen your muscles and improve your posture. When some muscles are too weak, the connecting ones will begin to overcompensate for them, which can negatively impact your posture. You might find yourself hunching or arching your back more, which can lead to even more pain. By stretching throughout the day, you should notice a difference and start standing taller.
Stretching will Increase Blood Flow to Your Muscles
Another way stretching can benefit you is by increasing the blood flow to your muscles. It also boosts your oxygen levels and can help deliver essential nutrients to your muscles. By stretching, you’re also removing metabolic waste, such as carbon dioxide, ammonia, and uric acid. All of this will contribute to healthier muscles that can increase your energy levels and get you through the day without tightness or stiffness.
Stretching Can Release Muscle Tension
Most people carry stress within their muscles, which is why you may notice tightness in your neck, shoulders, or hips if you’re stressed out. Stretching is an excellent way to release that tension, also making it an ideal activity for relaxation. The less tense your muscles are, the calmer you’ll feel. Which leads us to our next point…
Breathing Helps with Stretching
When you come into our practice for an assisted stretch session, you’ll notice how we always encourage you to breathe deeply during the stretch. We do this for a reason! Breathing through a stretch can help your body relax, which helps release muscle tension and increases the move’s effectiveness. So, don’t forget to breathe, and don’t fight the stretch. Your body will thank you later.
Connecting Pathways Run Through the Entire Body
The toe bone is connected to the foot bone, and the foot bone is connected to the ankle bone. You remember that old song from your childhood! Your body is made up of pathways of soft tissue that connect everything from head to toe. When you stretch one part of the body, it can impact all the other parts throughout this soft tissue pathway. This is why tight hips can impact your back and even give you headaches
A Muscle Can Stretch up to One and a Half Times its Original Length
Yes, it’s true! Your muscle fibers are so pliable that they can stretch up to one and a half times their starting length. However, you should be careful when stretching your tendons since they aren’t nearly as flexible. In fact, if you stretch a tendon just 4% beyond its original length, you could risk permanent damage. This is another reason why we stress starting slowly and remaining consistent.
What Kind of Stretches Should You Do for Sciatica?
Your sciatic nerve is the longest and thickest nerve in your body. It runs through your lower back, hips, buttocks, legs, and branches into other nerves in the feet. When this nerve is irritated or inflamed, it can cause a sharp or shooting pain in the parts of the body where the sciatic nerve meets. This is known as sciatica.
Since you can’t stretch the nerve itself, you’ll want to focus on moves that target the muscles it runs through for sciatica pain relief. Some basic stretches that target the back, hamstrings, and piriformis muscles can immediately ease your sciatica. Some common ones we can help you with are the child’s pose, pigeon pose, and the figure 4.
Be careful not to overdo it, as it can worsen your pain. Exercises that apply too much pressure on your lower back region can also make your condition worse. As always, we recommend asking a professional stretch practitioner about the best moves for your sciatica. We’re always happy to help!
Are You Looking for the Right Stretches for Sciatica Pain Relief?
StretchZone is dedicated to your health and providing you with the instant relief you need for a pain-free life. Count on us to provide you with all the accurate information you should know about stretching. We’re also here to help you perform the best moves based on your needs. If you’re interested in learning more about our services, feel free to get in touch with us. First-timers can take advantage of a FREE first stretch session!