How Stretching Can Hurt Your Muscles

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Issues, Muscle Therapy and Health

Preventing & Healing Repetitive Strain Injuries – Part 3

 Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT

 

These past two weeks we took a look at how muscles move the body, and why muscles cause pain. Then we looked at why strengthening isn’t always the best thing to do, in fact how it could even cause more pain. And finally today we’ll discuss why stretching can actually cause muscles to tear.  I call this the Stretching Misconception.

Stretching Shouldn’t Hurt!

Have you ever felt so tight when you tried to move a joint that you decided to stretch?  The odds are that you answered “yes” to that question.  However, many people complain that they feel worse after stretching than they did before stretching.

Before getting into the specifics of the stretching misconception there are two words that need to be clarified. Many people confuse the word “spasm” with “cramp”. A cramp (also called a “Charlie horse”) normally involves all of the fibers of a muscle, and is when a muscle suddenly contracts totally. A spasm is like tying a knot in the center of the muscle and while it may only involve a few fibers; there can be multiple spasms throughout the muscle.

Each spasm feels like a bump when you slide your fingers deeply down the length of the muscle. These spasms normally form over an extended period of time, often from repetitive strain on the muscle fibers. Spasms are at the heart of the stretching misconception, so it is important that you think of a spasm as a knot in the muscle fibers in order to understand why it can hurt to stretch.

As I mentioned in Part I of this series, a muscle begins on a stationary bone, crosses over a joint, and then inserts into a moveable bone. When the muscle pulls on the moveable bone, the joint moves, however, if the muscle has a “knot” in it you can actually cause micro-tears to the fibers as you stretch.

How Stretching Can Hurt Your Muscles

Stretching Analogy 1Think of this analogy: visualize a strong tree with a rope tied to it. The rope is the perfect length to attach to a flexible tree without bending the second tree. You can imagine if you pulled on the rope the flexible tree would bend over, and if you let go of the rope, the flexible tree would stand up straight again.  This is a simple explanation of how a muscle pulls on a bone and causes the joint to move.

However, if you tied a knot in the rope, the tree would bend. If you tied a second knot, the tree would bend even further. If Stretching Analogy 2you then tried to stretch the rope so the flexible tree was standing straight, you would cause the knot to get tighter and the remaining rope would have to overstretch on both sides of the knot in order for the flexible tree to stand up straight.

This is exactly what is happening when you have a spasm, or multiple spasms, in your muscle. As you stretch you are causing the knot within the muscle to get tighter, and you are also causing the fibers on either side of the spasm to overstretch. This overstretching may cause the fibers to actually tear either along the length of the muscle, or where the fibers attach to the bone at either end of the muscle. This can be avoided by simply massaging the muscle to release the spasm before you stretch.

It’s now easy to understand why the repetitive movements that you do on a regular basis will cause the muscle to ultimately shorten into knots that we call spasms or trigger points.  As I mentioned, when you try to stretch a spasm you can be causing yourself potential problems, and may even tear the muscle fibers.

Fortunately there is a solution. First you need to release the spasms that are causing the muscle to tie up into a knot, and then you can safely stretch. TriggerPointYoga was designed and developed to first eliminate the spasms in the muscle you will be stretching, and then continues to give four separate session of traditional yoga poses – two for the upper body and two for the lower body.  You will gain flexibility and range-of-motion without injuring your muscle fibers.

Julie Donnelly is an internationally respected muscular therapist specializing in the treatment of chronic pain and sports injuries.  She has co-authored several self-treatment books, including The 15 Minute Back Pain Solution, Treat Yourself to Pain-Free Living  and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome-What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You.  Julie is also the co-developer of TriggerPoint Yoga. She teaches Julstro self-treatment workshops nationwide and is a frequent presenter at Conventions and Seminars.  Julie may be contacted through her websites: http://www.julstro.com  and http://www.TriggerPointYoga.com.

© Julie Donnelly 2013

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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One of the Little known Causes of Headaches

Posted August 15, 2017 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Your Sleeping Position May Be Causing Your Headaches!

Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT – The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney

 

Can sleeping position be one of the causes of headaches?  

A Sleeping position that has your head tilted puts pressure on your spinal cord and will cause headaches. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times, and the reasoning is so logical it’s easy to understand.

causes of headachesYour spinal cord runs from your brain, through each of your vertebrae, down your arms and legs. Nerves pass out of the vertebrae and go to every cell in your body, including each of your organs. When you are sleeping it is important to keep your head, neck, and spine in a horizontal plane so you aren’t straining the muscles that insert into your vertebrae.

The graphic above is a close-up of your skull and the cervical (neck) vertebrae. Your nerves are shown in yellow, and your artery is shown in red.  Consider what happens if you hold your head to one side for hours. You can notice that the nerves and artery will likely be press upon. Also, since your spinal cord comes down the inside of the vertebrae, it will also be impinged.

In 2004 the Archives of Internal Medicine published an article stating that 1 out of 13 people have morning headaches. It’s interesting to note that the article never mentions the spinal cord being impinged by the vertebrae. That’s a major oversight!

Muscles merge into tendons, and the tendons insert into the bone.  As you stayed in the tilted position for hours, the muscles actually shortened to the new length.  Then you try to turn over, but the short muscles are holding your cervical vertebrae tightly, and they can’t lengthen.

The weight of your head pulls on the vertebrae, putting even more pressure on your spinal cord and nerves.  Plus, the tight muscles are pulling on the bones, causing pain on the bone.

Your Pillow is Involved in Your Sleeping Position and the Causes of  Headaches

sleep left side

The analogy I always use is; just as pulling your hair hurts your scalp, the muscle pulling on the tendons hurts the bone where it inserts.  In this case it is your neck muscles putting a strain on your cervical bones.  For example, if you sleep on your left side and your pillow is too thick, your head will be tilted up toward the ceiling. This position tightens the muscles on the right side of your neck.

sleeping in car and desk

Dozing off while sitting in a car waiting for someone to arrive, or while working for hours at your desk can also horizontal line sleepcause headaches. The pictures above show a strain on the neck when you fall asleep without any support on your neck. Both of these people will wake up with a headache, and with stiffness in their neck.

The best sleeping position to prevent headaches is to have your pillow adjusted so your head, neck, and spine are in a horizontal line. Play with your pillows, putting two thin pillows into one case if necessary. If your pillow is too thick try to open up a corner and pull out some of the stuffing.

 

sleeping on stomachSleeping on Your Back & Stomach

If you sleep on your back and have your head on the mattress, your spine is straight. All you need is a little neck pillow for support, and a pillow under your knees.

Stomach sleeping is the worst sleeping position for not only headaches, but so many other aches and pains. It’s a tough habit to break, but it can be done. This sleeping position deserves its own blog, which I will do in the future.

 

Treating the Muscles That Cause Headaches

sleeping position causes of headachesAll of the muscles that originate or insert into your cervical vertebrae, and many that insert into your shoulder and upper back, need to be treated.  The treatments are all taught in Treat Yourself to Pain Free Living, in the neck and shoulder chapters.  Here is one treatment that will help you get relief.

Take either a tennis ball or the Perfect Ball (which really is Perfect because it has a solid center and soft outside) and press into your shoulder as shown.  You are treating a muscle called Levator Scapulae which pulls your cervical vertebrae out of alignment when it is tight.

Hold the press for about 30 seconds, release, and then press again.

Your pillow is a key to neck pain and headaches caused by your sleeping position.  It’s worth the time and energy to investigate how you sleep and correct your pillow.  I believe this blog will help you find the solution and will insure you have restful sleep each night.

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly

 

About The Author

julie donnelly

Julie Donnelly is a Deep Muscle Massage Therapist with 20 years of experience specializing in the treatment of chronic joint pain and sports injuries. She has worked extensively with elite athletes and patients who have been unsuccessful at finding relief through the more conventional therapies.

She has been widely published, both on – and off – line, in magazines, newsletters, and newspapers around the country. She is also often chosen to speak at national conventions, medical schools, and health facilities nationwide.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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