In case you missed it in the June issue, I provided my top three “Tips for healthy, sporty muscles.” There is so much information to share on the topic, I decided to spend an entire NW Sports issue on the topic of stretching.
When I was a young athlete, en route to claiming Indiana State swimming titles, pre- and post-workout stretching was an integral part of my recovery routine. It wasn’t until I hurt myself lifting weights in graduate school that I realized how much stretching the wrong muscles can actually make injuries much worse. In fact, stretching the wrong muscles can erase some, if not all, of your hard-earned PT repetitions if you aren’t careful. Even now, many people will come to me for help, only to find out they’ve been stretching all the wrong muscles.
Here are some of the most common pitfalls people fall victim to:
— “This muscle feels tight, and no matter how much I stretch it, it doesn’t seem to loosen up.”
— “I want to set a personal record, so next time, I’m going to stretch a lot before-hand.”
— “This injury feels good when I stretch it, but the pain comes right back as soon as I’m done.”
When we have injuries, aches and pains, it’s a signal from our body to our brain that something is out of balance. So, how do you know if you’re out of balance? Here are three tests that can help you understand more about the muscle balance of your hips, as an example.
• Single Leg Raise (Hamstrings): Lay on the floor with your hands out to the side (preferably next to a mirror or with a friend) and raise a straight leg slowly as high as you can. If a plumb line from your working heel surpasses the knee of your leg on the ground, your hamstrings probably aren’t “tight,” and you may be worse off stretching them.
• Shin-Box/Z-Sit (Piriformis): If you can sit on the ground unassisted in an upright position with your shins making 90-degree angles on both sides, your piriformis muscle probably isn’t “tight,” and you may be worse off stretching them (i.e. pigeon pose in yoga).
• Quad Test: If you can lay flat on the floor, face down, and without allowing any movement in your lower back, bring your heel to your buttocks and grab your ankle, your quads probably aren’t “tight.” The key with this is to use your core to maintain the position of your back and pelvis.
It’s important to note: everyone has a different level of “stiffness” that they carry from childhood development, genetics, sports background, etc. So, the three tests above should be roughly balanced in ability, or inability to perform. So, for example, if someone can perform the Single Leg Raise and make a 90-degree angle with their working leg, but during the Quad Test they can’t grab their ankle without their low back arching and pelvis tilting forward, that’s a significant imbalance that will cause recurrent back pain and instability.
The main take away is that stretching is a great tool when it’s applied appropriately, but far too often it is applied in such a way that actually decreases performance, increases pain, and increases frustration.
Finally, these tests are not diagnostic and should never be used in place of a professional to accurately diagnose your condition and deliver an excellent treatment plan.
Need some quick advice? Feel free to give our clinic a call at 206-328-5466 and one of our staff will help point you in the right direction.
Dr. Dan Michael is a chiropractic physician at NW Sports Rehab in Madison Park.