Should Stretching Hurt?
Should stretching hurt? The safe, short answer is- no. But “hurt” is a fairly subjective concept. The most common problematic scenario I observe when it comes to stretching routines is an overly aggressive approach. Somewhere along the way, the idea that a stronger, more painful stretch is better than a less aggressive stretch became popular. I argue that stretching should not be painful, particularly if the reason you are stretching is to gain relief of nagging symptoms such as pain or a sense of tightness. But even if you are symptom free, stretching in a painful manner doesn’t make much sense to me.
“Don’t worry about feeling good after the stretch… worry about feeling good during the stretch”
When I ask people why they force themselves to do painful stretches, the usual answer i get is that “it feels better afterwards”. My general rule for stretching is that your mindset should be on feeling good during the stretch. Don’t worry about feeling good after the stretch… worry about feeling good during the stretch. If you’re having to endure a painful experience in the hope of gaining a future benefit, I think you need to rethink your approach to stretching.
So Why Do People Stretch?
It helps to evaluate the reasons why you are stretching. When I ask people why they stretch they usually tell me;
- I stretch to prevent injury
- I stretch to improve my range of motion
- I stretch to address a sense of muscle tightness and / or pain
From the perspective of solid scientific evidence, there’s actually a good deal of uncertainty as to whether stretching can achieve any of these goals. But even if we put that to the side, I promise you that stretching in an aggressive, painful manner will not help you achieve any of these goals more so than stretching in a less aggressive, comfortable, “good pain” manner. Furthermore, when we stretch painfully, we run the risk of sensitizing our nerve pathways. As a general rule, a body with sensitized nerve pathways is not likely to be a body that is moving freely. I tend to find that people who do stretch painfully, only get short term improvements in their mobility. Their sense of tightness or pain returns. I wonder to what extent their efforts to aggressively stretch away their symptoms are actually perpetuating a degree of muscular guarding by way of increased nerve pathway sensitivity. Perhaps aggressive, painful stretching actually contributes to their symptoms?
If your goal is to prevent injury, improve range of motion or address a sense of tightness or pain, try backing off your stretching routine a little. Learn how to tinker with your limb positions to direct your forces to the muscle tissue while avoiding excessive tensioning of nerve pathways. I promise it will make your stretching session less of painful chore and more of a enjoyable release.
If you’d like to learn how to reboot your approach to stretching, feel free to drop me a line.