Tag Archive for: stiff

Stretches not Working? Three Reasons Why

Do you suffer from chronic muscle tightness or back stiffness and ever wonder… why aren’t my stretches working?

Perhaps you’ve Googled and YouTubed every stretch under the sun but still – you haven’t gained an ounce of mobility.

There are a few reasons why all your stretching efforts might not be doing anything for you. It could be your technique. It could be that you’re doing the wrong stretch. Or, it could be that you just shouldn’t be stretching at all!

Let’s go over the different reasons why your stretching routine could be failing you – and most importantly – what you can do about it.

You’re doing it wrong.

Although research studies are inconclusive regarding how long you should hold a particular stretch, most people feel good when they hold a stretch for 30-60 seconds. When it comes to technique, one of the biggest problems I see is not relaxing enough. If you’re tense, or gripping your muscles at the same time you’re stretching, it won’t work very well. It’s important to breathe and move easily into any stretch you’re doing. If you try to force it or push through pain, you’ll likely tense up.

Now let’s say you’re doing everything right (not tensing or gripping) but your stretches still don’t seem to work. Some people (myself included) respond better to “moving stretches.” This is where instead of holding one static position for a prolonged period, you repeatedly move through one or several end-range stretches. Moving neck rolls are a great example of this. If you’ve been diligently stretching and not seeing the results you want, try adjusting your technique. Moving stretches might be a better strategy than static holding. I know for me it is!

You’re doing the wrong type of stretch.

This one could be a little tougher to figure out on your own. There is a difference between corrective stretching and stretching to feel good. For example, let’s say your back is tightening up because you’ve been under a lot of stress or you just did a lot of activity that stiffens up your back. Generic back stretches, such as bringing your knees to your chest or child’s pose, may be all you need to quickly get rid of the general stiffness you’re experiencing.

But let’s say you have associated back pain, or pain and numbness running down your leg. In these instances, generic back stretches won’t work or could even make you worse. You likely need corrective stretches, like what we prescribe for patients in our office. Corrective stretches are specifically prescribed to address symptoms, and are very different from the generalized stretches that are designed to feel good and relieve tension.

You shouldn’t be stretching at all.

Did you know that chronic muscle tightness can be a sign of a weakness? This is a very common problem with our clients. I’ve seen many folks over the years with chronic tightness and discomfort in their neck, backs, hips, etc. – and no matter how often they stretch or massage, it doesn’t improve.

How does this happen?

Well, groups of muscles are connected by this substance called fascia. If one group of muscles in the “fascial line” are not doing their job, a different group of muscles will have to take up the slack. When muscles are tasked with more work than they are intended for, they can become tight.

For example, if your deep core is not working properly, then the front of your neck will often kick in and try to help. If your neck is always sore or tight after a good ab workout, this is what could be happening. Stretching your neck won’t help one bit in this case – because what you need to be doing instead is strengthening your core. I see this same pattern with tight hips flexors. Once people start strengthening their core properly – the chronic tightness magically melts away.

Remember, when we are attacking the correct problem and doing the right thing – our body will respond. If you’ve been stretching and stretching and not seeing results – something is missing.

The longer your problem goes on, the more time it has to develop into a complicated fix.

If you’re suffering from any kind of pain or tightness that is keeping you from doing the things you love, our specialists are here to help!

Just CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery Session!

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Tight knots in your muscles? Do’s and Don’ts

At one point or another, or perhaps even this very second, you’ve experienced tight knots in your muscles.

They are annoying, nagging, uncomfortable, and quite often painful.

The most common area to feel these knots is in your upper traps (the triangle shaped area between your shoulder blades and base of your neck). But other areas of your body that love to get knotted up include your mid and lower back, your hips and butt, the front and sides of your thighs, and the back of your lower legs.

The first thing people think to do when experiencing these tight knots or muscle spasms is to get a massage or try rolling them out with a foam roller. Lately, theraguns seem to be the craze. These devices look like power drills and use percussive therapy to reduce pain and relieve tightness in the affected area. In our office, for really stubborn and painful knots, we use something called dry needling, which is where you take a tiny acupuncture needle and insert it into the tight knot to bring blood flow to the area and release tension.

These are all great options, and for the most part, I put them in the category of “Do’s” when it comes to getting rid of tight knots in your muscles.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, not so fast. Not all muscle knots are meant to be released.

“Don’t” aggressively release a tight knot in your muscle until you know why it’s there. 

Sometimes, muscle knots form as a critical compensatory strategy. If released too quickly, they can set off an array of problems. I was just talking to my massage therapist about this, because she’s seen it happen to her own clients. Occasionally, she’ll work her magic to get rid of tight muscle knots only to find the client feels worse after the session. This can happen when the tight knot was there to compensate for a weak muscle elsewhere. 

Let me explain. 

Muscles are connected via highly innervated tissue called fascia. It looks like a spider web and one of its main functions is to connect organs and muscles together. Fascia is still being studied, but one of the theories is that if one muscle group in that fascial line is not doing its job, a different muscle will work extra hard in its place to take up the slack. Eventually, that muscle will get exhausted and tighten up into a knot, because it’s doing more work than it was designed to.

If you release a knot that is “holding the line” together, you’re asking for trouble.

In this example, what I’ve found is that the passive methods of releasing muscles (those I mentioned earlier) aren’t very effective at helping you get rid of the problem. You might actually end up feeling worse or having pain elsewhere. If your tight muscle knot is there to act as a survival mechanism, it’s going to take a more comprehensive and total body approach to resolve it. You’ll need to figure out which muscle or muscles the tight knot is compensating for and address them at the same time you work to release the tight knot. You can keep getting your weekly massage, but you’ve got to pair it up with correctly prescribed exercises.

To summarize, DO figure out WHY you have a tight knot in your muscle first.

Is it there because you overworked it in the gym? Maybe you’ve taken on a new project at home that is repetitive in nature?

If these are the reasons you’ve got tight knots in your muscles, then DO release them. You’ll likely feel better. And then correct the movement patterns, so the knot doesn’t come back.

If you feel worse after releasing the tight knots in your muscles, or the knot keeps coming back, then the problem likely involves more than just that muscle and you need a more comprehensive approach to get rid of it.

DON’T continue to release it over and over.

If you’re suffering from stubborn knots that won’t go away, get assessed by movement experts like us who can diagnose your problem accurately and help you get rid of the tight knots in your muscles for good.

 

Dr. Carrie Jose – back pain specialist and Pilates expert – owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth, NH

Tight Hamstrings: a Case Study

If you’ve ever felt tightness in your hamstrings, the typical advice you get from friends, family, and even well-meaning health and wellness professionals is to stretch them.

Well… if it’s just your hamstring that’s actually tight then this might be good advice to follow.

But what if it’s something else?

If you accidentally stretch a hamstring that feels “tight” due to a back problem – there is a very good chance you’ll make your condition worse.

This exact scenario happened to a recent client of ours (we’ll call him “Jack”) who came to us with what he thought was a “hamstring strain.”

Jack had been stretching and stretching his hamstrings – which he had been told to do by his chiropractor – but he wasn’t feeling any looser. In fact, his hamstring even started to hurt the more he stretched, so he thought maybe he caused himself a strain.

Was he doing too many stretches? Or perhaps doing them incorrectly?

He made the smart decision to call us for help and came in for an examination.

And the first thing we asked him was…

“Where is your pain?”

Jack pointed to the back of his leg, but when he started describing his symptoms… it turned out they actually started in his butt, traveled down the back of his thigh, and stopped at his knee. But on occasion he’d also feel the tightness in his calf. And since doing all that hamstring stretching, he was even starting to feel pain!

Lesson number 1:

Your hamstring starts at your ischial tuberosity – otherwise known as your “sit bone” – and extends down to just below your knee. Since muscles and joints can’t actually refer symptoms (only nerves and sometimes fascia can do that), feeling pain or tightness anywhere other than your actual hamstring is the very first clue you could be dealing with something other than a hamstring problem.

Since Jack was feeling symptoms in his butt and also down into his calf, we knew immediately that “hamstring strain” was NOT Jack’s problem.

The next step was to figure out where his tightness was coming from.

Lesson number 2:

Since he’d been stretching for several weeks already and was starting to feel more problems in his leg – the likely explanation was that it was coming from his back.

While yesm over-stretching can make you sore, and yes, stretching incorrectly can cause you discomfort… that wasn’t the case with Jack. He was still feeling tight, and now on top of that he was dealing with pain.

All signs were pointing to a problem in his back.

Well now that we had our theory – it was time to test it!

After performing several movement tests with Jack’s back, we were able to produce the exact same tightness AND pain he had been feeling in his leg. And with some different movement tests we were actually able to ELIMINATE his symptoms temporarily.

Since moving his spine in certain directions was responsible for both turning “on” AND turning “off” his leg symptoms, we were able to confirm that he had a back problem – not a hamstring problem.

Pretty cool – right?

Jack thought so… but more importantly… he was glad to finally have some answers! Finally, he had a plan to move forward.

  1. He stopped stretching his hamstring.
  2. He started doing a different – and properly prescribed movement instead – that was designed to eliminate the symptoms in his leg.

We’ll of course need to continue working with Jack to make sure that his leg symptoms not only go away – but that they stay gone. Part of the process will be teaching Jack how to do this on his own in case the problem ever comes back again.

Sadly, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a case like Jack’s in my office.

Lucky for Jack, he came to us early on – when his symptoms were mild. Basically, the nerves in Jack’s spine were starting to get irritated, and the result was a “tight” feeling in his hamstring. Nerves don’t like to be stretched, so Jack was actually making his problem worse by stretching and he didn’t even know it. Had he not gotten this addressed – the tightness in his leg could have progressed into full blown sciatica!

If you have any kind of ache or pain that isn’t going away on it’s own with natural movement or stretching – don’t try to figure it out on your own.

And as you learned from Jack’s case – not all movements are created equal. It’s possible you could look up a stretch on Google or YouTube and actually make yourself worse!

Don’t guess… TEST 🙂

And when it comes to pain during movement or certain activities – let the movement experts be the ones to test you and figure it out. All you have to do is click here to schedule a FREE, no-obligation consultation with one of our specialists! These Discovery Sessions are your chance to determine where your pain, tightness, or stiffness may be coming from and if we’re the right people to help fix it.

Pilates Class at CJPT & Pilates

When Gyms Reopen — Will Your Body be Ready?

The state of New Hampshire is slowly reopening, and we are so excited that small-group fitness classes can return to gyms and studios on June 1st! While many businesses, including ours, have adapted by offering online services — most clients we speak with can’t wait to get back in the studio again. 

The big question is — will your body be ready?

If you’ve stuck with your strength and mobility routine and have been working out regularly from home, then you have a better chance than most to bounce right back.

But not everyone has taken advantage of online virtual exercise services, and many I speak with have opted to do nothing and just wait. Many have resorted to more frequent walking, running, or biking as a substitute for their usual exercise routines.

Any physical activity is better than no physical activity, but daily cardio is not the same as strength training. It’s just not going to be enough to get you by if your plan is to jump right back into the same pre-Covid workout routine that you left behind.

It takes months to gain appreciable muscle strength and improve mobility… but it only takes two to three weeks to lose it all.

The biggest mistake that I expect to see once gyms and even our own Pilates studio reopens is that people will assume their body is ready to pick back up exactly where it left off. And within about two to three weeks of that, injuries WILL start to happen.

What can you do?

If you’re not in any pain, but all you’ve been doing is cardio, then it’s a good idea to start incorporating strength and mobility back into your routine now. Your body will be much happier when it gets back into the gym or studio, and you’ll be less likely to experience some kind of injury. My best recommendation is to utilize the online services that your favorite gym or studio already offers — or find a facility that is offering them. In our studio, for example, we have online virtual Pilates classes daily. We guide you through the movements using precise cueing, and watch you while you’re moving. This allows us to give you in the moment corrections and make sure that you’re getting the most out of your workout. While it’s not exactly the same as your instructor being right there next to you, it’s the next best thing.

If you’re already experiencing pain or stiffness, perhaps because you’ve been walking or running more than you’re used to, you’ll want to talk to a movement specialist like us before you jump back into your previous exercise routine.

We know how to screen your muscles and joints properly, and can guide you toward not only getting rid of your pain, but we will also ensure that you’re set up to thrive in your workouts once we’re allowed to reopen again. Another big misconception I see is that people assume their pain will just go away once they start exercising again. While that may be true for some, most of the time it goes the other way, and your pain either gets worse or manifests itself somewhere else because your body starts to compensate for the problem.

I spoke with a gentleman earlier this week who was suffering from knee pain and stiffness because he went from walking 2-3 miles per week to walking 2-3 miles per DAY with his wife. He wants to get back on the golf course, and due to the restrictions on using golf carts, more walking is going to be necessary. His knee won’t be able to handle that in its current state, plus it will get worse if he pushes it. So I’m excited that he took us up on our offer to talk for free about what was going on with his knee. Now we’re going to get him the help he needs!

If you have any questions about pain that you might be experiencing, or want to ask about getting into a Pilates class this June, give us a call!

We are still offering FREE Zoom or in-person consultations to help people figure out what to do about their pain while they are stuck at home or slowly re-entering the world.