People who train for sport or recreation get bumps and bruises on a daily basis.
It is a natural side effect of being alive and pushing limits.
I am always hearing of someone who “tweaked “X” muscle over the weekend.”
The next step in the conversation is the one where I am put in a position that makes me completely unable to help them.
“What stretch can I do for it?”
This is our default thought when something does not feel good. I am not sure when the trend started or where it came from.
I know most people usually feel a little bit better after they stretch out and maybe that is why it gets extended to pain.
I am here to tell you that stretching is probably the last thing you want to do when you have muscle pain.
It is rare, but some people do have genuinely short muscles. They could be experiencing pain due to that.
For most other people there are more factors at play when we are talking about a muscle that could be strained.
Muscle strain results from being over stretched and weak.
In some cases, muscles can become long and weak. A muscle that is long and weak is not capable of producing a lot of force.
When the muscle has demands put on it, it requires strength to handle the stress. Without the necessary strength, the muscle will become strained.
Now if the muscle is long and weak, stretching is going to be all for naught. A muscle that is already long is probably not going to get any longer.
Not only is the stretching going to be ineffective, it could actually make the problem worse in the first place.
The most common form of strength training is accomplished with concentric muscle contractions. A concentric contraction results when the muscle shortens to produce force. We are working concentrically when the weights are being moved as opposed to being lowered with gravity.
If we start to strengthen the muscles, we have a chance of reversing the long and weak issues that have arose.
*A quick side note on this is that joint alignment cannot be ignored. That whole topic is for another time, but the muscle cannot function optimally if the joint is misaligned.
Always strengthen muscles in perfect posture to realign the structures that being trained.
Muscle strain is also a result of continuous tension.
When we participate in the same activities over and over we are reinforcing certain patterns while ignoring others.
This is how most sports and cardio activities operate.
When we constantly use the same muscles they become much stronger than the opposite muscle group.
Let’s use running as an example. Running uses the quads and practically ignores the hamstrings. Both muscles are responsible for assisting with knee stabilization.
When the hamstrings cannot do their job due to weakness, the quads must be constantly activated to help with the stability.
This constant tension can often result in a quad strain. This is how most athletes can strain their quads despite having very strong quads.
To reduce the continuous tension dilemma we need to use massage. This can be in the form of self myofascial release (SMR) or getting one from a professional.
SMR can be done with foam rollers, PVC pipes, tennis balls, lacrosse balls, and any other tool that we can find.
Providing pressure on the muscles will help reduce tension in the targeted areas. It will hurt like hell during, but feel great later.
Putting long and slow pressure on the muscles will help them relax and stop producing tension.
I like to foam roll before lifting, after lifting, and any other time I feel like it.
More often than not, a muscle “tweak” is the result of weakness or overuse.
When that is the case, stretching is a lost cause. We do not to add length to the muscle, we need to strengthen it or relax it. Stretching a muscle under constant tension is a good way to injure it.
The next time a muscle starts to bother you, change the process. Hop on roller instead of going right to a static stretch.
Sometimes that will be good enough to relieve the pain. If not, work on strengthening the area without pain.
Stretching is a good way to cool down a healthy muscle. We need to explore other methods when an injury takes place.
Pain is complex so there is not going to be an easy way to make it disappear.
Practice good posture, use self massage, and get stronger in order to avoid nagging muscle pain.