The Number One Thing You Can Do for Your Back: Stretching for Pain Relief
By Savanna Stone //
Why You Should Do This Every Day for Back Pain Relief
You might think that building muscle and aerobic fitness is more important than flexibility, but that’s not the case. In fact, flexibility can help you build muscle tone and increase your ability to perform aerobic activities. Some health specialists suggest that stretching should be done daily to maintain range of motion and to keep your muscle fibers flexible, healthy, and strong.
Why is daily stretching important
When you go a long period without stretching, your muscle fibers become tight and short. Then when the time comes for you to call upon your muscles, whether that means lifting or running, you have increased your risk for muscle strains, sprains, or damage dramatically.
Many people work at stationary jobs where they are not required to get up from their desks. This is one example of why stretching becomes important. When you sit for a long period of time, your hamstrings (the muscle on the back of your thigh) tighten and shorten. If left unchecked, tight hamstrings can cause problems with even the simplest of things like walking. If you try to do something even more advanced like play golf or lift up your daughter/granddaughter, you could damage your muscles and joints. Why would this activity also damage your joints? The muscles support the integrity of your joints, so an injured muscle might not be strong enough to support your joint. This is why simply stretching every day becomes important for your long term muscle and joint health. Daily stretching will help maintain strong muscles, which in turn will help maintain strong joints.
Stretching can also help improve your posture because it strengthens your muscles while encouraging correct alignment. Stretching also helps prevent injury, increases nutrients to your body, increases blood flow to your muscles, reduces soreness, and promotes healing. Stretching can also have a positive effect on your mind. It provides you with a short mental break as you increase blood flow throughout your body and to your brain, which results in you feeling calmer. As the tension leaves your muscles, you can feel that stress leaving your body and mind, because tightening your muscles is something you do more of when you’re stressed. Because you have an increased blood flow when stretching, the blood is bringing nutrients throughout your body, which will result in increased energy. Another benefit of stretching is that it can help to improve your range of motion for your joints, improving your ability to do aerobic activities.
If you read this and stretch once today and forget to do it tomorrow, that will not be enough. Making stretching part of your long term routine is what will make a difference for your muscles and joints. If a gymnast or yogi were to go one day without stretching, that wouldn’t affect their muscles a lot. However, if a gymnast or yogi were to go months without stretching that would cause their muscles to tighten and shorten. The same thing works the opposite way. If you have gone months or even years without stretching, it is going to take you a while to become flexible and gain those long, lean, and flexible muscles you desire.
How does stretching work
To understand how stretching works, you have to know a little bit more about the muscles itself first. The muscle is made of strands of tissue called fascicles, similar to the strands of muscle you see when you cut into poultry or red meat (gross, I know). Every fascicle is made of fasciculi or bundles of muscle fibers. Muscle fibers are made of tens of thousands of myofibrils that are similar to thread. These myofibrils contract, relax, and elongate. We could keep going into detail, getting smaller and smaller to the cell, but I think that’s all you need to know to know how stretching works. Nerves and muscles are connected, so when the brain tells your muscle to do something, in your muscle fibers the signal stimulates the flow of calcium, which causes one of the smallest parts of your muscle to rub against each other and shorten to contract the muscle fiber.
When you stretch, the most basic unit of the muscle fiber contracts, allowing your muscle fiber to elongate. When the muscle fiber is at its limit, that means all the smallest units of muscle are fully stretched. Too much stretching will put force on your connective tissue. However, even when this happens, there are some muscle fibers at rest. The more often you stretch, the more muscle fibers will be elongated.
Is it better to stretch before or after a workout?
According to recent discoveries from Harvard Health, they recommend light activity before stretching or stretching after your workout. It is safer for your muscles to be warm when you stretch them instead of trying to stretch cold fibers. Think of your muscles as a wet rag. If you put the rag in the freezer and then try to stretch it, chances are it will easily break or crack. If you let the rag thaw out for a bit before you stretch it, it will be flexible. Even 5 to 10 minutes of walking before you stretch will help protect your muscles. If you would like to do an intense workout, it is recommended that you go on a light walk, stretch, then do your workout.
What are the most important muscles to stretch?
You don’t have to stretch every single muscle you have every day, because that would take a lot longer than the time you have. The most important muscles to stretch include your lower body muscles: calves, hamstrings, hip flexors, and quadriceps. The next important muscles to stretch would be your shoulders, neck, and lower back. If you cannot find time to stretch daily, you should try to stretch 3 to 4 times a week. Using the Chirp Wheel to help you stretch is a quick, easy way to get your daily stretching in. Don’t be discouraged if you miss a day of stretching, just jump right back into it tomorrow.
How to stretch: stretching basics
Hold your stretch for 30 seconds without bouncing. Release and repeat a few times. Slowly ease into and out of your stretch. You should feel tension during your stretch, but you should never feel pain. Try and relax into the stretch. If you start to feel pain, ease back a bit and the pain should subside. If the pain still doesn’t subside, you might have already injured or damaged your muscle and should consult your doctor. In this case, you should stop stretching because it could do further damage until your muscle has time to heal.
How to stretch with the Chirp WheelSit and lean back.
- Sit on the ground with knees bent and feet firmly planted.
- Place the Chirp Wheel+ against your back in alignment with your spine. Take some time to center yourself and find balance even on the ground.
- Lean back gently to transfer your weight to the wheel. Relax and find balance in this position before lifting your hips.
- Rest your hands on the ground, the wheel, or your chest for balance. Do whichever feels the most comfortable for you.
- Lift your hips upward while relaxing your back. Find balance with your hips lifted before rolling on the wheel.
- Don’t tense up! The more you relax your back, the better it will feel.
Roll back and forth.
- Begin to roll back and forth on the wheel by bending and straightening your legs. Use your hands for balance. If one spot on your back needs an extra massage, stop rolling to put pressure on that spot. Or switch to a smaller wheel.
- Roll out for 3 to 5 minutes. Length of preferred use will vary by individual.
- Relax your head back to avoid neck pain.
Bonus: Stretching with the Chirp Wheel
Do you need ideas on how to stretch? Read these blogs below to get countless stretching ideas.
Harvard Health. (2019, September 25). The importance of stretching. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-importance-of-stretching#:~:text=Why%20stretching%20is%20important,to%20extend%20all%20the%20way.
Mayo Clinic. (2020). Stretching: focus on flexibility. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/stretching/art-20047931?pg=2&reDate=08072020
MIT. (2020). Physiology of stretching. Retrieved from http://www.mit.edu/activities/tkd/stretch/stretching_2.html
UC Davis. (2020). Why stretching is extremely important. Retrieved from https://shcs.ucdavis.edu/blog/archive/healthy-habits/why-stretching-extremely-important