Stretching is overrated.
Wait! Before you throw your foam roller at me, hear me out.
There’s nothing wrong with stretching. And, for the record, I happen to think we’d all be in better physical health if we did yoga. And I get massages regularly.
The problem with stretching is with our expectations.
Most people think if a muscle feels tight, you “just need to stretch it out.” If that doesn’t work after a while, maybe try yoga or massage. If it’s really bad, you might get into acupuncture or physical therapy.
Here’s the problem with that approach: If a muscle is tight, it’s tight for a reason. And if you want the muscle to relax, you’ve got to deal with the underlying problem.
If a muscle is tight it is usually because the muscle is being intentionally activated by the brain through the nerves to PROTECT an area of vulnerability or damage.
Picture a neck brace or a splint around a sprained ankle. The brace or splint is rigid around the damaged area to keep it in place and protect it. Tight muscles work the same way.
For example, if one of the vertebra in your neck is shifted out of alignment, your brain knows that is a problem and could cause long-term, irreversible damage. So to protect it, the brain sends a message through the nerves to the muscles in that area to hang on tight.
Meanwhile, we beat the daylights out of that those muscles, trying to stretch, poke, cup, needle, rub, roll and knead them into submission. But massaging or stretching tight muscles will never fix a structural problem.
I have great respect for muscle-focused therapies like stretching, massage, physical therapy and yoga. I believe these are are helpful components of healing and staying healthy. I often refer my patients to Nick Van Ngo, a licensed massage therapist who practices out of the office here. I teach good stretching techniques in my office. My wife is a fan of yoga and it definitely is good for her overall health and well-being. But as helpful as muscle-focused therapies can be, they will never be able to fix a structural problem. And if a structural problem exists, muscle-focused therapies may even do more damage than good. That’s why I say stretching is overrated. People have unrealistic expectations of what it’s going to accomplish.
Signs there might be a structural problem with your spine:
- You feel the need to crack or pop your neck or back
- You find yourself guarding some part of your body when you work out
- You have bad form with certain exercise movements
- Your posture is funky
- You have muscles that stay tight long-term
I’ve been a chiropractor for 16 years now, and what drew me to chiropractic in the first place is the same reason I still love my job. Chiropractic is solution-oriented. We find the problem. We fix the problem. You get back to living the life you want to live.