by Andrew Pacholyk MS LAc.
Next to breathing and breath work, stretching is the most beneficial exercises we can do for better health. Done in tandem, breath work and stretching are the best support for easing aches, pain, tension, headaches, tight muscles and unexplained pain elsewhere in the body.
Just as there are different types of flexibility, there are also different types of stretching. Stretches are either dynamic (meaning they involve motion) or static (meaning they involve no motion). Dynamic stretches affect dynamic flexibility and static stretches affect static flexibility (and dynamic flexibility to some degree). When done properly, stretching can do more than just increase flexibility. Benefits of stretching include:
*enhanced physical fitness
*enhanced ability to learn and perform skilled movements
*increased mental and physical relaxation
*enhanced development of body awareness
*reduced risk of injury to joints, muscles, and tendons
*reduced muscular soreness
*reduced muscular tension
*increased suppleness due to stimulation of the production of
chemicals which, lubricate connective tissues
*reduced severity of painful menstruation (dysmenorrhea) in females
Stretching your body’s muscles will actually enhance the healing process. Long, slow static stretching will help to increase blood flow and circulation, eliminating stasis and help to warm and invigorate the muscles and in turn lubricate the ligaments and joints.
One good over all stretch for your body is to lie on the floor and gently bring your knees up to your chest. Once there, put a little pressure on your knees with two hands. Gently raise your head up toward the knees. Breathe, in, out, in out…..slowly. Stretch, then relax. Repeat.
Another good stretching series for pain is to stretch the opposing (opposite) muscle groups. For example, lower back pain often points to tight psoas muscles in the front of the legs (hips).
The Upper Arm: If you are having pain int the biceps, then stretching the triceps can help relieve pain.
- Sit on the floor with your feet flat and knees bent.
- Place your palms on the floor behind you with your fingers pointing away from your body.
- Keeping your hands in place, slowly slide your butt away from your hands until you feel a stretch in your biceps. …
- Hold for at least 30 seconds.
You can do the overhead triceps stretch while standing or sitting.
1. Lift your shoulders up toward your ears and then draw them down and back.
2. Extend your right arm to the ceiling, then bend at the elbow to bring the right palm toward the center of your back, resting your middle finger along your spine.
3. Use your left hand to gently push your elbow in toward the center and down.
4. Hold this stretch 30 seconds for three to four repetitions on each side.
Shoulder and Upper Back: If you are experiencing pain in the deltoids then, stretching the latissimus dorsi will help pain.
- Start standing or sitting tall. Grab one arm above your elbow with your opposite hand, and pull it across your body toward your chest until you feel a stretch in your shoulder.
- Make sure to keep your elbow below shoulder height.
- Hold for at least 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.
- From a kneeling position, sink your hips back and place your right forearm along the floor.
- Lean your weight onto your right arm and stretch out your left arm, reaching out through your fingertips. …
- Hold this position for a few seconds.
- Return to the starting position.
- Repeat 10 times.
Upper Chest and Upper Back: Stretching the pectoralis major muscles will help relieve pain that you are experiencing in the trapezius/rhomboid muscle groups.
1. Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, place your right hand atop a bench or other stable object between waist and chest height.
2. Straighten your arm, and slowly turn to the left until you feel the stretch in your chest without forcing it.
3. Hold for a six-count, and repeat on the other side.
Upper back stretch
1. Begin on your hands and knees. Spread your knees apart while keeping your toes touching, then gently lower your hips forward towards the ground with arms outstretched in front of you.
2. Keep your arms extended forward with palms down on the floor, lengthening the lower back. Hold this pose for several breaths. For an added stretch, bring both hands to one side in front of you, lengthening the lats and muscles of the opposite side of your body. Repeat by reaching to the other side after a good stretch is felt.
3. Hold each of these poses up to 30 seconds. Note: If you have pain in your knees or hips, try performing this pose while seated on a pillow or folded blanket, or try using a foam roller under your palms to make the stretch more comfortable.
Lower Back and Stomach (abs): Pain in the lower back or erector spinae can benefit from stretching the abdominal muscles. Hip (Flexion and Extension): Iliopsoas is often the culprit with lower back, and sacrum pain. Stretching and strengthening the gluteus maximus can help relieve this. The Hip (moving leg out to side): Hip Adductor is often a problem because of the frequent movement this muscle endures. Stretching the gluteus medius, helps improve this pain.
Lower back stretch
The knee-to-chest stretch can help lengthen your lower back, relieving tension and pain.
1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
Using both hands, grab hold of your right lower leg and interlace your fingers, or clasp your wrists just under the knee.
While keeping your left foot flat on the floor, gently pull your right knee up to your chest until you feel a slight stretch in your lower back.
2. Hold your right knee against your chest for 30–60 seconds, making sure to relax your legs, hips, and lower back.
3. Release your right knee and return to the starting position. Repeat steps 1–3 with your left leg. Repeat three times for each leg.
4. To make this stretch more difficult, simultaneously bring both of your knees to your chest for 15–20 seconds. Do this 3 times, separated by 30 seconds of rest.
Stomach (ab) stretch
Cat-Cow stretch helps with the mobility and flexibility in your abdominal muscles. It also helps stretch and strengthen your lower back. Get on your hands and knees, and tuck your head downward as you arch your back, similar to how a cat does it.
- Extend the neck all the way upwards, and drop your belly all the way downwards, stretching the abdominal muscles.
- Hold for 20 seconds, then return to the starting position.
- Repeat 3 to 4 times.
Thigh (extension and flexion of the knee): Quadriceps are the large muscles in the front of the upper leg. The opposing muscles are the hamstrings. Stretching the quads can help relieve pain in the back of the legs and visa versa. Lower Leg (standing, running): Tibialis Anterior or shin pain can also benefit by stretching the calves or gastrocnemius.
1. Foot to Butt stretch. Most people will arch the back and twist the spine as they perform this stretch. Usually this occurs as an attempt to reach the foot with their arm.
2. The better way to perform this stretch is to begin with the knee bent and the thigh positioned in front of the body. This places the foot under the hip making it easier to reach. From this position the key is to gently pull up on the foot to take the slack out of the quad.
3. Then while maintaining this tension the patient can bring the thigh into extension until they feel a comfortable stretch.
1. Standing tall, slowly start rolling your head down toward your feet. You will start coming to a point when you feel resistance in the back of your legs.
2. This is where you take a deep breath and relax further down over your legs. Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds
3. Slightly bend your knees to relieve the tension as you inhale. Then exhale and straighten the knees again to reactivate the stretch.
4. Make sure your hips are directly over your feet as you drop your head further towards your feet. Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds.
These are several examples on how stretching can help relieve pain situations.