Stretching Exercises For Flexibility And Pain Relief

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Exercise, Pain Relief, Stretching

The Pluses And Minuses Of Stretching

Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT –The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney


muscle knotsWhen using stretching exercises for flexibility and pain relief, you should be careful to release the knots first.

Minuses!  Are there any minuses to stretching?  Yes, there are…let me explain.

All muscles originate on one bone, we’ll call the bone that is at the beginning of the muscle the “stationary bone,” then the muscle tendons cross over a joint and insert into another bone we’ll call the “moveable bone.”

When the muscle contracts (shortens) it pulls on the tendons, and they pull on the moveable bone where they are inserting.  This is how all joints move.

Let me demonstrate with the biceps muscle in your upper arm.  Your biceps originate in two different places:

The “long head” is deep inside your shoulder joint, and the “short head” is on a bone at the top of your shoulder called the coracoid process of your shoulder blade.

muscle painYour biceps tendon crosses over the inside of your elbow joint and inserts into the bone in your forearm.

When your biceps contract, you bend your elbow so you can touch your shoulder.

Notice that your triceps, on the back of your arm, are having to totally stretch to allow this movement.

Imagine what will happen if your triceps won’t stretch.

You won’t be able to bend your arm and your elbow will hurt.  You may decide that you need to stretch your triceps – but this is where the “minus” comes in!

The “Minus” of Stretching Exercises for Flexibility When Your Muscle is Tight

stretching exercisesWhen you repetitively use a muscle, in this case the triceps, the muscle fibers spasm and become painful, tying them into knots that are shortening the muscle fibers.  The fibers are now short, but they are still originating and inserting in the same place.  This causes a strain on the bone, usually at the insertion point.

If you had a 12″ length of rope and tied enough knots in it to make it 11″ and then consider what would happen to the rope if you tried to stretch it back to 12″ without first untying the knots.  The knots would get tighter and the fibers outside of the knots would be overstretched. This is what happens to your muscles when you stretch without first releasing the spasms.  It is the main reason you may feel worse after stretching than you did before you stretched.

Also, since the fibers are now short, they can’t lengthen enough to allow the joint to bend.  In this example, the triceps have shortened which prevents them from lengthening. You either think you need to strengthen your biceps, or you think you need to stretch your triceps.

Rarely does anyone think about first releasing the spasms, and then stretching the muscle fibers.  Yet,  this is exactly what needs to be done if you plan on using stretching exercises for flexibility and pain relief.

Release the Spasms  Preventing You From Using Stretching  Exercises Safely.

release spasmsAs I mentioned, when you try to stretch you are now causing the knots in the muscles to become more complicated, and you are overstretching the fibers on either side of the knot.

However, if you release the spasm by putting direct pressure on it, you will feel a burning sensation, but as you press and release, the burn will lessen until it totally disappears.  Now you can safely stretch for flexibility without injuring any of the muscle fibers.

The Perfect Stretching For Flexibility Packages:

Two products that will demonstrate how you can safely release the spasms and then start stretching for flexibility

The 15 Minute Back Pain Solution


Specifically written to focus on each muscle that causes back pain. THE 15 MINUTE BACK PAIN SOLUTION explains in detail why the muscles from the middle of your back to your knees will cause low back and hip pain, including sciatica and what to do to relieve the pain.  An easy-to-read eBook that has a step-by-step program you can do in 7 Days.

This is the perfect way to prepare your muscles so you can use stretching exercises for flexibility!


Focused Flexibility Training

back pain solutionThe comprehensive stretching program covers all aspects of releasing the spasms that have shortened the muscle fibers, and then guides you through a safe stretching routine using proven yoga-style postures.

Focused Flexibility Training has three DVDs that:

  1. Demonstrates how to do every Julstro self-applied treatment taught in Treat Yourself to Pain-Free Living.
  2. Two 30-minute yoga-style stretching programs for the upper body
  3. Two 30-minute yoga-style stretching programs for the lower body.

Both stretching programs featured in the DVDs start with a 15-minute routine of Julstro self-applied treatments to release spasms in the muscles being stretched and then continue on to the 30-minute guided stretching programs.

Focused Flexibility Training also comes with a Julstro Perfect Ball and a Bamboo Stick Massager to provide all the tools you’ll need to be safely stretching for flexibility.

With just a bit of time and focused attention on safely stretching, you will be able to get back to living your life without joint pain and with more flexibility than ever before – it’s easy and it feels great!

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly


About The Author

julie donnellyJulie 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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Comments (1)

  • Caroline


    Which is why QiGong is soooo good and I teach to my patients. Gentle but effective movement for any age and, as well, relaxes the mind and spirit. No hurt anywhere in the body is the end result.


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Recent Videos From Dr. Steve Chaney


Latest Article

A Low Carb Diet and Weight Loss

Posted January 15, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do Low-Carb Diets Help Maintain Weight Loss?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney


low carb dietTraditional diets have been based on counting calories, but are all calories equal? Low-carb enthusiasts have long claimed that diets high in sugar and refined carbs cause obesity. Their hypothesis is based on the fact that high blood sugar levels cause a spike in insulin levels, and insulin promotes fat storage.

The problem is that there has been scant evidence to support that hypothesis. In fact, a recent meta-analysis of 32 published clinical studies (KD Hall and J Guo, Gastroenterology, 152: 1718-1727, 2017 ) concluded that low-fat diets resulted in a higher metabolic rate and greater fat loss than isocaloric low-carbohydrate diets.

However, low-carb enthusiasts persisted. They argued that the studies included in the meta-analysis were too short to adequately measure the metabolic effects of a low-carb diet. Recently, a study has been published in the British Medical Journal (CB Ebbeling et al, BMJ 2018, 363:k4583 ) that appears to vindicate their position.

Are low carb diets best for long term weight loss?

Low-carb enthusiasts claim the study conclusively shows that low-carb diets are best for losing weight and for keeping it off once you have lost it. They are saying that it is time to shift away from counting calories and from promoting low-fat diets and focus on low-carb diets instead if we wish to solve the obesity epidemic. In this article I will focus on three issues:

  • How good was the study?
  • What were its limitations?
  • Are the claims justified?


How Was The Study Designed?

low carb diet studyThe investigators started with 234 overweight adults (30% male, 78% white, average age 40, BMI 32) recruited from the campus of Framingham State University in Massachusetts. All participants were put on a diet that restricted calories to 60% of estimated needs for 10 weeks. The diet consisted of 45% of calories from carbohydrate, 30% from fat, and 25% from protein. [So much for the claim that the study showed low-carb diets were more effective for weight loss. The diet used for the weight loss portion of the diet was not low-carb.]

During the initial phase of the study 161 of the participants achieved 10% weight loss. These participants were randomly divided into 3 groups for the weight maintenance phase of the study.

  • The diet composition of the high-carb group was 60% carbohydrate, 20% fat, and 20% protein.
  • The diet composition of the moderate-carb group was 40% carbohydrate, 40% fat, and 20% protein.
  • The diet composition of the low-carb group was 20% carbohydrate, 60% fat, and 20% protein.

Other important characteristics of the study were:

  • The weight maintenance portion of the study lasted 5 months – much longer than any previous study.
  • All meals were designed by dietitians and prepared by a commercial food service. The meals were either served in a cafeteria or packaged to be taken home by the participants.
  • The caloric content of the meals was individually adjusted on a weekly basis so that weight was kept within a ± 4-pound range during the 5-month maintenance phase.
  • Sugar, saturated fat, and sodium were limited and kept relatively constant among the 3 diets.

120 participants made it through the 5-month maintenance phase.


Do Low-Carb Diets Help Maintain Weight Loss?

low carb diet maintain weight lossThe results were striking:

  • The low-carb group burned an additional 278 calories/day compared to the high-carb group and 131 calories/day more than the moderate-carbohydrate group.
  • These differences were even higher for those individuals with higher insulin secretion at the beginning of the maintenance phase of the study.
  • These differences lead the authors to hypothesize that low-carb diets might be more effective for weight maintenance than other diets.


What Are The Pros And Cons Of This Study?

low carb diet pros and consThis was a very well-done study. In fact, it is the most ambitious and well-controlled study of its kind. However, like any other clinical study, it has its limitations. It also needs to be repeated.

The pros of the study are obvious. It was a long study and the dietary intake of the participants was tightly controlled.

As for cons, here are the three limitations of the study listed by the authors:

#1: Potential Measurement Error: This section of the paper was a highly technical consideration of the method used to measure energy expenditure. Suffice it to say that the method they used to measure calories burned per day may overestimate calories burned in the low-carb group. That, of course, would invalidate the major findings of the study. It is unlikely, but it is why the study needs to be repeated using a different measure of energy expenditure.

#2: Compliance: Although the participants were provided with all their meals, there was no way of being sure they ate them. There was also no way of knowing whether they may have eaten other foods in addition to the food they were provided. Again, this is unlikely, but cannot be eliminated from consideration.

#3: Generalizability: This is simply an acknowledgement that the greatest strength of this study is also its greatest weakness. The authors acknowledged that their study was conducted in such a tightly controlled manner it is difficult to translate their findings to the real world. For example:

  • Sugar and saturated fat were restricted and were at very similar levels in all 3 diets. In the real world, people consuming a high-carb diet are likely to consume more sugar than people in the other diet groups. Similarly, people consuming the low-carb diet are likely to consume more saturated fat than people in the other diet groups.
  • Weight was kept constant in the weight maintenance phase by constantly adjusting caloric intake. Unfortunately, this seldom happens in the real world. Most people gain weight once they go off their diet – and this is just as true with low-carb diets as with other diets.
  • The participants had access to dietitian-designed prepared meals 3 times a day for 5 months. This almost never happens in the real world. The authors said “…these results [their data] must be reconciled with the long-term weight loss trials relying on nutrition education and behavioral counseling that find only a small advantage for low carbohydrate compared with low fat diets according to several recent meta-analyses.” [I would add that in the real world, people do not even have access to nutritional education and behavioral modification.]


low carb diet and youWhat Does This Study Mean For You?

  • This study shows that under very tightly controlled conditions (dietitian-prepared meals, sugar and saturated fat limited to healthy levels, calories continually adjusted so that weight remains constant) a low-carb diet burns more calories per day than a moderate-carb or high-carb diet. These findings show that it is theoretically possible to increase your metabolic weight and successfully maintain a healthy weight on a low-carb diet. These are the headlines you probably saw. However, a careful reading of the study provides a much more nuanced viewpoint. For example, the fact that the study conditions were so tightly controlled makes it difficult to translate these findings to the real world.
  • In fact, the authors of the study acknowledged that multiple clinical studies show this almost never happens in the real world. These studies show that most people regain the weight they have lost on low-carb diets. More importantly, the rate of weight regain is virtually identical on low-carb and low-fat diets. Consequently, the authors of the current study concluded “…translation [of their results to the real world] requires exploration in future mechanistic oriented research.” Simply put, the authors are saying that more research is needed to provide a mechanistic explanation for this discrepancy before one can make recommendations that are relevant to weight loss and weight maintenance in the real world.
  • The authors also discussed the results of their study in light of a recent, well-designed 12-month study (CD Gardener et al, JAMA, 319: 667-669, 2018 ) that showed no difference in weight change between a healthy low-fat versus a healthy low-carbohydrate diet. That study also reported that the results were unaffected by insulin secretion at baseline. The authors of the current study noted that “…[in the previous study] participants were instructed to minimize or eliminate refined grains and added sugars and maximize intake of vegetables. Probably for this reason, the reported glycemic load [effect of the diet on blood sugar levels] of the low-fat diet was very low…and similar to [the low-carb diet].” In short, the authors of the current study were acknowledging that diets which focus on healthy, plant-based carbohydrates and eliminate sugar, refined grains, and processed foods may be as effective as low-carb diets for helping maintain a healthy weight.
  • This would also be consistent with previous studies showing that primarily plant-based, low-carb diets are more effective at maintaining a healthy weight and better health outcomes long-term than the typical American version of the low-fat diet, which is high in sugar and refined grains. In contrast, meat-based, low-carb diets are no more effective than the American version of the low-fat diet at preventing weight gain and poor health outcomes. I have covered these studies in detail in my book “Slaying The Food Myths.”

Consequently, the lead author of the most recent study has said: “The findings [of this study] do not impugn whole fruits, beans and other unprocessed carbohydrates. Rather, the study suggests that reducing foods with added sugar, flour, and other refined carbohydrates could help people maintain weight loss….” This is something we all can agree on, but strangely this is not reflected in the headlines you may have seen in the media.

The Bottom Line


  • A recent study compared the calories burned per day on a low-carb, moderate-carb, and high-carb diet. The study concluded that the low-carb diet burned significantly more calories per day than the other two diets and might be suitable for long-term weight control. If confirmed by subsequent studies, this would be the first real evidence that low-carb diets are superior for maintaining a healthy weight.
  • However, the study has some major limitations. For example, it used a methodology that may overestimate the benefits of a low-carb diet, and it was performed under tightly controlled conditions that can never be duplicated in the real world. As acknowledged by the authors, this study is also contradicted by multiple previous studies. Further studies will be required to confirm the results of this study and show how it can be applied in the real world.
  • In addition, the kind of carbohydrate in the diet is every bit as important as the amount of carbohydrate. The authors acknowledge that the differences seen in their study apply mainly to carbohydrates from sugar, refined grains, and processed foods. They advocate diets with low glycemic load (small effects on blood sugar and insulin levels) and acknowledge this can also be achieved by incorporating low-glycemic load, plant-based carbohydrates into your diet. This is something we all can agree on, but strangely this is not reflected in the headlines you may have seen in the media.
  • Finally, clinical studies report averages, but none of us are average. When you examine the data from the current study, it is evident that some participants burned more calories per hour on the high-carb diet than other participants did on the low carb diet. That reinforces the observation that some people lose weight more effectively on low-carb diets while others lose weight more effectively on low-fat diets. If you are someone who does better on a low-carb diet, the best available evidence suggests you will have better long-term health outcomes on a primarily plant-based, low-carb diet such as the low-carb version of the Mediterranean diet.

For more details read the article above.



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.