Oftentimes, when someone says that they feel ‘out of whack’ or ‘uneven’, it is due to muscle imbalances. If certain groups of muscles are tighter in one area or on one side of the body, it creates an imbalance. It can be similar to driving down the road with the wheels out of alignment. Over time it can cause unnecessary wear and tear on the tires, suspension and more. In the human body it leads to distortions in the pelvis, spine, hips or shoulders. When these asymmetries exist for too long, not only do people feel ‘out of alignment’, but it can result in low back pain and neck pain.
The key is to understand which stretch will be most beneficial as this can vary from person to person. This is especially true if there is pain or an injury, in which case it is recommended to be evaluated by a spine specialist. When dealing with pain, there is a notion to stretch the area that hurts. However, this is not always a good thing and often times it is best to avoid stretching the pain.
There are a few reasons for not wanting to stretch into pain. First, it could potentially be a nerve rather than a muscle being stretched. In these cases, the issue will only be made worse by causing more damage to the nerve. When dealing with nerve pain it is better to use therapies such as decompression or nerve mobilization (neurodynamics). Second, the site of pain could be an area of weakness or instability which is often the case with back pain. In this circumstance, strengthening and functional rehabilitation are more appropriate for the area. In that situation, stretching the surrounding area, e.g. the hips would be most therapeutic. Lastly, stretching a muscle spasm incorrectly can lead to it becoming even tighter. Sometimes muscles are so tight because they are trying to protect an underlying joint dysfunction. Stretching the area makes it rubber band back, creating even more pain. In these circumstances, spinal manipulation to correct the joint first is helpful.
Just as with myofascial release, there are many types and degrees of stretches. It can be confusing at first when trying to figure out the most beneficial stretch. To get the most out of stretching, it is best to be familiar with your body. This can be done by a simple evaluation to assess the length of each muscle to discover imbalances.