Like many chiropractors, a good share of my day is spent working with sedentary office workers who spend eight to 12 hours a day glued to a chair in front of a computer. Unsurprisingly, most of these patients arrive at our office with the mobility of a mollusk exhibiting astonishing muscular tightness and tension. Inevitably, their solution to get relief is to stretch and stretch and stretch.
But static stretching isn’t the solution. In fact, there’s little benefit, if any, to be gained from it. Yet it seems the most intuitive thing to do. We have been taught that stretching makes you “stretchier” and will release those tight muscles.
Unfortunately, while it sounds good in theory, it’s wrong. No matter how long we spend stretching, we’ll see negligible improvements in flexibility and range of motion. What’s more, static stretching has actually been shown to decrease strength and athletic performance, while failing to reduce risk of injury to any significant degree.
What the Latest Research Suggests
A recent report sums up the latest evidence that static stretching is counterproductive. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that weightlifters who warmed up using static stretching reduced their one-rep maximum strength by 8 percent and decreased their lower body stability by more than 22 percent.
These findings complement a comprehensive review of 104 experiments published in the Scandinavian Journal of Sports Medicine.
Muscles are “dumb”; they do only what they are told to do. I’m constantly pounding it into my patients’ heads that the nervous system controls everything and muscles don’t contract unless the nervous system says so. If a muscle is chronically tight, there’s a reason – for example, the body trying to provide stability to an unstable joint.
Therefore, simply stretching tight muscle tissue without correcting the reason will only result in that muscle getting tight again.
If Stretching Isn’t the Answer, What Is?
- The first step is, obviously, correcting the neurological cause of the problem with chiropractic care. It’s easy to get wrapped up in addressing symptoms, but until the reason for the abnormal muscle tightness is taken care of, you’re just going to be spinning wheels.
- Stability Exercises: Strengthening around weak areas of your spine develops endurance and stability and leads to relaxed, capable muscles. Balance is also a key ingredient to your nervous system’s perception of stability. Add a couple of balance exercises to your exercise routine.
- Foam rolling / traction: Foam rolling is not just another type of stretching. Instead of changing the length of muscle tissues, foam rolling reduces resting muscle tone. Additionally, employing traction with decompression tables can also decrease stimuli to overactive muscles and encourage movement of fluid into joint spaces.
- Dynamic warm-ups: To prep for exercise, I advise my patients to warm up by doing the movements they will use during their workout, instead of simply stretching. Of course, everyone’s capabilities are different, so the warm-up should be tailored to the individual. For runners or joggers, for example, this means lunges, high knees and power skips.
Stop Stretching. Stiffness and tightness is the result of overworked muscles attempting to stabilize weak and hypermobile structures. Strengthen your way to relaxation.