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Archive for Stretching

Super Simple (and fun) Guide to Increase Range of Motion

I’ve had the honor and privilege of teaching creative movement and writing in women’s prisons for the last twelve years. (Wondering what this has to do with massage therapy? Read on!)

One of the units I volunteer in is the Female Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP). Yes, there are female sex offenders. When I first learned about SOTP I was immediately drawn to facilitate workshops there.

I approached the program director and she loved the idea. Since most Texas prisons have a strict “No Touch” policy, The SOTP program is strictly cognitive based therapy. The program director knows that these women hold tremendous trauma in their bodies and fervently believes that creative movement classes allow their bodies to speak. . (Nearly 100% of female offenders have been sexually abused in childhood.)

I always start my classes with fun icebreaker exercises. I put on some fabulous African drumming music and have them write their name with their tail bones, their belly buttons, elbows, nose, chin – anybody part will do! Before long, everyone is smiling and laughing and magic is happening behind bars.

Create some magic in your office/clinic! Encourage your clients and yourself to move in novel ways like I described above. The body loves circular and spiral movement which stimulates different parts of the brain and gets us out of linear, sagittal plane movement. When we move in a variety of ways different parts of our nervous system are stimulated, giving us a new sense of ourselves, a fresh identity.

I regularly suggest to my clients to put on their favorite music and imagine there’s a paint brush attached to the body part we’re working with and do the following:

  1. Rotator cuff/shoulder injuries: write your name in script with your elbow. Bend elbow and Place fingers lightly on shoulder. For those with limited ROM, start in the pain free range (example 30 degrees of abduction).
  2. Neck: write your name in script with your chin and top of head.
  3. Hips/lower back: write your name in script with your belly button and tail bone.

GUIDELINES

  • Stay in the pain-free range until the body feels ready to perform the movements with more volume
  • If it hurts, make it smaller. Micro-movements are a great start.
  • It should feel good and be fun!

BENEFITS

  • Increases range of motion
  • Introduces novel sensations in the body
  • Increases proprioception
  • Releases endorphins
  • A wonderful alternative to traditional exercises

Super Easy Guide to When NOT to stretch your clients!

As passionate as I am about the value of skilled stretching, I’m equally zealous about when NOT to stretch. A common misconception in the bodywork, fitness and yoga fields is “All muscles should be stretched”. Let’s put that to rest right now. All muscles do not need to be stretched.

One of my clients came in last week with severe rhomboid/middle trap pain on her left side. When I asked her about what she thought caused it, here’s what she told me:

“My mother gave me a gift certificate for a relaxation massage which I used last week. The therapist had just taken a Thai*massage course and wanted to do some stretches before the massage. She did one where she pulled my arms away and across my body, one at a time. When she did my left, I could feel something give and it started hurting about an hour after the massage. I could kick myself for letting her stretch me!” (*I am not dissing Thai massage! I love it and get them often.)

This client is quite savvy and educated about her body. She has weakness in her left scapulae retractors (rhomboid/middle traps) because of an old shoulder injury. She manages it with regular bodywork and carefully chosen stretching and strengthening exercises. Her scapulae retractors do not need stretching. Most people’s do not. Most of the time they need strengthening.

Let’s take a brief and general look at postural and phasic muscles:

Postural muscles: also known as tonic or local muscles have an anti-gravity function – they are heavily involved in the maintenance of posture. They tend to be shortened and tightened. Another way of saying that is they tend to be overly-activated.

Phasic muscles: also known as global muscles have primarily a movement role. They are usually more superficial than postural muscles. A shortened, tight postural muscle generally results in inhibition of its associated phasic muscle which becomes weakened as a result. Think pec major and rhomboids.

Let me emphasize that this chart is a general guideline of common muscles that usually benefit from stretching (postural) and those that do not (phasic). Like everything in life thee are exceptions.

You’ll notice infraspinatus is considered a postural muscle because it’s part of the rotator cuff –a stabilizing structure. Infraspinatus is notorious for being weak, inhibited and locked-long. It rarely needs stretching. You’ll notice I do not include a stretch for it in Stretch Your Clients.

Another example is the cervical extensors. With everyone on their devices these days, do those extensors really needs stretching?

I hope this article helps you make informed decisions when to stretch and when not to stretch. Let me know what you think!

A Brief Overview of the Physiology of Stretching

Stretching starts in the sarcomere, the basic structural unit of a muscle. The sarcomere contains those famous myofibrils, actin and myosin. When a muscle is stretched, the area of overlap between the myofibrils decreases, allowing the muscle fibers to elongate. The muscle fibers are pulled to their full length, sarcomere by sarcomere. Additional stretching takes place in the surrounding connective tissue. The muscle and collagen fibers align themselves along the same line of force as the stretch. This helps to realign disorganized fibers (both muscle and connective tissue fibers) and contributes to rehabilitating scar tissue.