Do you need to Stretch your muscles always?
When to and when not to stretch.
The physiology of the muscle is never designed in such a way that our muscles will keep on getting tight every day if it is not stretched regularly. If that is the case, every muscle deserves that stretching. Why only stretch the hamstrings and calf? Even the diaphragm needs regular stretching because it is the most regularly and repeatedly contracting muscle than any other skeletal muscle. Nobody stretches their diaphragm volitionally. Does the diaphragm get tight? No, but it keeps on contracting without getting tight until we die.
70% of the Indian Population lives in Villages. That is close to 90 crore people. They don’t do regular stretching every day to maintain their flexibility. We urban people try to learn all the muscles in the body and try to stretch them specifically. It became a norm that you are bad if you don’t stretch. Imagine your grandfather or great-grandfather doing those hamstring and piriformis stretches every day!!! They had a better job than stretching. They do not even know that a muscle called the hamstrings exists in their body, like a Tiger. It does not know that it has hamstrings and gluteus, but it unknowingly recruits those muscles when chasing its prey. Normally, we should focus on movement or the task. Not the muscles.
My friend never exercised in her entire life. Yet, her hamstring length is phenomenal. Standing forward and bending, she can comfortably place her hand on the ground. As a fit guy, I could barely go to the mid-tibial level. But otherwise, I never felt that my hamstrings were tight, nor did it cause any pain. So, everyone’s baseline muscle length is based on their genetic makeup, gender, occupation, exercise habits, and injury or pathological conditions (EDS, Down Syndrome, CP, hemiplegia, etc.) We do not have to glorify someone flexible and dishonour someone with tight muscles. Leave them alone if they are comfortable with what they are doing and not having any pain or dysfunction.
If we do various activities like walking, squatting, stair climbing, lifting, carrying & bending at different joint angles and are active overall, at least 60-70% of the muscle length and flexibility will be achieved. But don’t think that all muscles in the body needs that stretching every day. We have a lot of reserves. So even with 60 to 70% muscle length, our ADLs, general human function, and movements can be possible.
Until now, I have discussed normal individuals with no pathology, pain, or movement disorders. For them, the answer is they do not need stretching. Lack of stretching never leads to tightness.
But Stretching is needed in these circumstances:
- When the muscle is truly tight post-injury or post-immobilization. Ex- Hamstring tightness after Hamstring Strain.
- When increased muscle length is needed as a part of sports-specific training. Ex – Latissimus length in swimming
- Suppose a muscle is consistently held in shortened position during the job, poor ergonomics or pathology. Ex – Forward shoulder and tight pectoralis, Calf tightness after foot drop.
- When there is a suspected or identifiable trigger point and if that trigger point is due to repeated concentric contractions or after injury. Ex- Deltoid trigger point post shoulder #.
- When the individual likes stretching, likes the feel of stretching, or feels happy after stretching.
- When a neurological issue causes hypertonicity, even here, functional training is prudent.
Yoga teacher teaches stretching, Gym trainers teach stretching, and Physios do the stretching. When and why to do stretching, we need to know the science. Don’t stretch anything and everything.
Dr. Rajkannan. P,