Does the perfect stretch routine exist?

Yes… and No

Just stretch whatever feels tight right? 

Well that’s one way to go about it and it might work well for you but if it did, you probably wouldn’t have even gotten this far into this post. And although it can certainly feel good to stretch certain muscles because they feel tight, it’s important to ask a few simple questions to investigate a little further.

Here’s the simple steps to developing a proper stretching routine FOR YOU:

  1. Discover what is actually tight? In other words, is there more than one area?
  2. Remember the software 
  3. Lifestyle posture
  4. Tools for relief
  5. Finding quality professional services

1. What is actually tight? Why does it seem like it’s always the same muscle?

When I was training for my first Kettlebell certification I started having pain in my left shoulder and I thought it was because of a simple issue of overuse and that I just needed to rest. This was told to me by my trainer as well as a Chiropractor that I was seeing at the time. I would have taken their advice however it didn’t make sense that only my left shoulder was giving me an issue when I did the exact same number of exercises and repetitions with my right shoulder and it wasn’t giving me any trouble at all.

So I started searching for stretches and ways to fix the issue that didn’t involve medications to simply block the pain because I knew the pain would eventually come back unless I got to the cause. I discovered new stretches and warmups that seemed to provide some temporary relief but I would continuously have to stretch before my workouts and between them or the pain would come right back. Even with these stretches that were specifically designed for the shoulder, I felt like there was something more because the problem would keep coming back. 

2. Movement Testing:

Imagine you have a pebble stuck in your shoe and you neglect to take it out. If you want to avoid any pain or discomfort, you’ll start to change how you walk and avoid putting a ton of weight on that part of your foot. While you’re beginning to learn this new walking (gate) pattern, you’re fairly conscious of how you step, but after a while your brain begins to pick up on this new gate and you’ve essentially reprogrammed your brain (software) for a new way to walk. 

So when it comes to developing your “perfect  stretching routine”, it’s important to remember that just because muscle feels tight, doesn’t always mean that the actual muscle is short and needs to be stretched. It could be that your nervous system is telling that muscle to contract in order to prevent you from moving in such a way that it’s not used to. And that stretch that you’re continuing to do is almost  always going to feel tight because you haven’t been able to get to the root cause as to why your brain thinks that movement is potentially dangerous.

This is essentially the premise behind the Functional movement screen and several other systems for testing your movement quality. Whether you have a rock in your shoe or you’ve had a hip replacement, your brain will change the way you move, in this case walk, in order to avoid pain. Given enough time of these new movement patterns, you can start to develop unwanted wear and tear and/or pain in your joints. But, if you’re able to find the cause of the altered movement pattern, you can address it and restore balance. 

Funny enough for me, the problem with my shoulder was not because of a shoulder injury but it was due to improper core function which prevented the muscles around my shoulder from stabilizing it properly. This lack of core function was mainly caused by my postural habit… (sitting too damn much).

3. Posture habits: 

The habits I was almost forced into for work, and lifestyle were this:

  • Sitting and doing computer work for 6 to 8 hours per day
  • Using the phone with head tilted to the side instead of a headset
  • Driving a stickshift

My lifestyle habits are not far stretched or abnormal by any means. But the important part to analyze on your own is how it can affect your movement. In my case, driving a stick shift car forced me to push with my left leg (clutch) and constantly have some twisting of my hips. When you add that with sitting for so many hours, the core begins to not work as well and you end up with more of a one sided imbalance. Add up that I was constantly tilting my head to only the one side when using the phone, and now we start to build a recipe for the problem even more.

Not enough people examine their postural habits or repetitive movements or investigate what are the simple things that can be contributing to the aches and pains they have throughout their body. For a large percentage of people, these postural habits mainly come from work because of the amount of time they spend at work.

Think about the different jobs;  Police, Fire, Garbage hauler, Construction, Student, Mechanic, Teacher, Lawyer, etc.. There are so many different jobs that require your body to be in a variety of positions from seconds to hours, and it’s important to address any imbalances you may have as a result. Whether you stand the majority of the day or sit a majority of the day, don’t overlook this component as it could be key in helping you make some huge improvements in your overall movement quality.

4. Tools for relief:

Let’s just acknowledge that at some point, it might be necessary to use a tool that will help you stretch better. Remember, the goal of what you’re going for is probably not stretching for stretching shake,  but to achieve a result. Whether it’s pain relief or performance improvement, certain tools can help you achieve that goal.

On my journey to fixing the shoulder issue, I tried using foam roller to roll out the muscles, tennis ball and lacrosse ball for pin and stretch type of release, super-bands for joint distraction, theragun for muscle relaxation, and a theracane for even more pinpoint muscle release. At best these different tools would help me for the training session for the day but it would come back. This was because my training didn’t incorporate the supportive strengthening exercises to fix the imbalance or core dysfunction.

There is an area for another completely separate blog so we can review different tools that help you create more mobility and flexibility. Whether it’s a rubber band of sorts, a foam roller, massage gun, or any other fancy device, almost all the tools can help you overcome a limitation of the soft tissues (muscles, fascia, tendons). The important thing is make sure you continue to work on the supportive exercises that will prevent the need to keep depending on the tool.

5. Finding a quality professional:

Sometimes you might end up finding a tool that is super useful and specific for addressing some sort of restriction but sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to get it done by yourself. Or, you don’t have the time or desire to research the “how” and you would rather find a professional that can do it for you.

Finding a quality professional can be a challenge because it’s hard to determine if they know what you’re struggling with and if they’ll be able to help you. So what are the things to look for? 

Here is a quick and simple list of questions to ask:

How clear is what they do? 

  • Take a look at their website, social media, testimonials, and see if they help people like you who struggle with similar issues.
  • Is there a clear description of how they help people like you?
  • Is it mainly symptom management or fixing the underlying root cause?

Will they do a consultation with you before you start with them?

  • It’s important that you feel comfortable. This professional will most likely be using some sort of manual technique to help guide you into a stretch or movement so its important you feel comfortable and safe.

Are they willing to refer to another provider if they are not the right fit? 

  • We’re not meant to work with everyone, hopefully they can point you in the right direction for a provider who can better help you.

Having constant aches and pains throughout your body is definitely no fun. I’ve been there and I know how annoying it can be to be limited in your activities or simply be distracted by pain. One major aspect of how we move, and even perceive pain is all about how the nervous system functions.

Movement and our ability to navigate through our environment is dependent upon our ability to stay upright. In other words, we need to be able to balance so we don’t fall over and hit our heads. And the biggest input into that system comes directly from the upper neck (top 2 bones). This is because they allow us to maintain our “righting reflex” which helps us keep our head level when we bend, lean or turn our torso. 

Our in depth focus at The Specific Chiropractic Centers looks at the relationship between these top two bones and its overall impact on the function of the central nervous system as a whole. Through our analysis, we’re able to determine if the nervous system is functioning normally and able to provide a specific correction when its not. This specific upper cervical adjustment allows your nervous system to work correctly, and by doing so, it improves your posture, balance, coordination, and reaction time so you have better range of motion and get the best results from whatever stretching routine you implement.

With all of these suggestions for how to develop a routine of stretching, hopefully you can start today on what’s most important to you and you get the results you’re after. If you ever have questions on how we can help you along the way, please feel free to send me an email.

-Dr. Drew