It is very good to stretch every day. This, along with a good exercise regime plus regular massage will help to keep us active for a great many years. However, not all stretching can be effective. Often muscles are stuck on, in spasm, and will not respond to stretching. Massage therapists will say they are full of knots and have various techniques at their proddy fingers to release these knots. If we think of a piece of elastic and part of the elastic is damaged, it will lose full elasticity. It won’t stretch at all where the damage is and stretches more on either side of the damaged area. This is what can happen to our muscles. If a muscle is not in good health, vigorous stretching will almost certainly damage it further.
What to do? Well, if a muscle is hurting or feels permanently stiff, the chances are high it needs a good massage session. In between sessions, it will speed recovery up if we work on it too and one of the best things to help is to use Muscle Energy Techniques, shortened to METs. In the blog How the body should work, I briefly went into the fact that when one muscle contracts, its opposing number should relax. The blog on How to stretch your quads is an example of using this to stretch and release the quads. The blog on PIR techniques went into the fact that when is muscle contracted gently, after contraction, it lets go briefly. PIR is a form of METs and excellent for muscles in spasm.
So the stretch in the above picture would become a MET if the man very gently pushed his knee outwards into his arms, thus contracting the tight hip muscles he is trying to stretch and then he gently pulled the knee further towards his chest, maybe placing an arm on the inside of his knee to add a little resistance. Each phase is held for 5 seconds, with a second of doing nothing between each – just letting the muscles be – and is done about 3 times. Then, as long as the muscle is not too damaged, we should find stretching after performing a MET is much more satisfactory. If a muscle does not feel ‘stretchy’ when stretching it, that is because it isn’t stretching; it is too tight to give and stretch. This is a good warning of impending pain and injury. Good stretching is essential and will really aid performance – even if that performance is only walking the dog. Years of pain free exercise has to be worked for.