How do I know if I am OVERSTRETCHING?
Stretching is an important aspect of any workout or training regimen that most people are familiar with. Those naturally flexible would find stretching extremely comfortable as compared to stiffer individuals who may find it a torture and often avoid it altogether. Despite the different benefits of different types of stretching (check out our previous article on ‘Different types of stretching and how they benefit us’), overdoing it may bring about adverse effects such as more pain instead.
First of all, how do we know that we are overstretching?
Pushing through tight muscles
Signs of overstretching may include a sharp pain felt during the stretch which can indicate a minor tear in the muscles or ligaments. This is commonly seen in less flexible individuals or newbies to stretching when they try pushing through the pain when stretching. Often times, stretching would involve some form of discomfort initially but after some practice and patience, it gets easier.
Pushing through flexible joints
In the case of hypermobile individuals, where their joints can move over the normal range of motion, pushing their muscles even more can sometimes damage the joint or non-contractile structures around it such as ligaments or the capsule. Muscles can lose their normal tone and fail to hold the joint in place during daily movements or exercises. This can lead to constant cracking, popping or clicking in these joints which are signs of joint instability. Furthermore, there are also cases where the nerves from the spine or in the limbs are overstretched along with soft tissues. Yogis who are extremely flexible wake up with dull sciatic-related pain down the back of the leg or are unable to sit for long hours due to aching in constantly stretched muscles. There was also a case study of a dancer who had weakness in her foot after being pushed into a pigeon pose during warmups.
How can overstretching harm the body?
When a muscle is being lengthened, it’s not just the actual muscle cells being elongated, but also the fascia or connective tissues that surround, encase and penetrate throughout the muscle. When we stretch a muscle, 40 percent of the actual stretch is coming from the elongation of its fascia! With too much stretching, the fascial tissues lose their ability to recoil and the inherent elasticity of these connective tissues disintegrate and become less functional. When these happen, muscles become vulnerable and can injure easily.
What do we do about overstretching then?
For those with tight muscles that limit normal range of motion, prevent overstretching by:
Stretching gently with a pain scale of maximum 4/10 where it is slightly painful but still bearable.
Practising deep breathing while stretching and keep your body relaxed.
For those who are hypermobile:
The key to working with hypermobile joints is bringing in strength and joint stability training.
Strength training includes working out with resistance eg. Kettlebells, dumbbells, resistance bands etc. within 6 to 10 repetitions. Having full strength within your available range gives you mobility throughout that range.
3. Joint stability training includes components of balance that may progress from a static position to adding dynamic movements. This form of training is done slowly and with control.
Happy stretching while staying safe everyone!
1. Shim, HY et al., Sciatic Nerve Injury caused by a Stretching Exercise in a trained dancer, Ann Rehabil Med. 2013 Dec; 37(6): 886–890.