You are injured and were told to stretch. So, you did and yet nothing happened. Or you may get some temporary relief afterward, but nothing lasting. Your pain is still present. You still cannot run.
If so, you are not alone. This is an all-too-common scenario among injured runners…ok, injured humans in general.
Now, before I go any further, I do not want you to feel bad for stretching. When an area is injured, things often feel tight. The normal tendency when something feels tight is to stretch. Combine that with the fact that your physician, rehab specialist, or online search probably advised you to stretch, and it totally makes sense that you would do stretches for your injury.
I also think it is necessary to point out that some people do get results with stretching because sometimes it is simply that something they have been habitually doing has caused tightness, so starting with stretching is not a bad thing.
But it is time to discuss why that stretching is not helping you.
The tightness you are feeling is a symptom. Chronic tightness happens for a reason, and there are several reasons, but there is always a reason…or better put, a cause. If all you do is address the symptom, the tightness, you will continue to give yourself temporary relief, but are not going to help with anything long term.
What are the causes? Glad you asked! Common causes include: 1) weakness in the muscles in the area, 2) joint stiffness in the area, and 3) abnormal forces being placed upon the body.
Two different things can be going on with this. For starters, our joints have smaller muscles that surround them called stabilizer muscles. When these muscles are weak, the larger muscles surrounding the area tighten up to protect the joint. It is the body’s natural response to stabilize an area when the muscles cannot do it themselves. Why are these muscles weak? Because they are not typically worked with the normal exercises people do. The normal exercises work all the bigger muscle groups; unless you have worked with someone or done research into the stabilizer muscles, you likely are not doing things for them.
You can also have poor muscular endurance in the larger muscles, such as the calves and hamstrings. Meaning, they do great holding up to a certain distance, but when you go over that distance, they get fatigued. When muscles fatigue, they either get tight or your form breaks down, which we will get into under abnormal forces.
When a joint gets stiff, the muscles are required to work harder to move that joint in order to do the job you are asking your body to do. If it is a motion that happens infrequently, it is usually not a big deal. When it is a repetitive motion, like running is, eventually the muscle will get fatigued from working harder over time. As mentioned above, when muscles fatigue, they get tight.
We can never leave this reason out when talking about why injuries happen or muscles develop chronic tightness. But what do I mean by abnormal forces? Let me explain.
A lot of things take place with each step you take, joints have to move in certain ways, muscle have to turn on and turn off at certain times, and areas need to be stabilized. If anything is not working appropriately, faulty technique happen. Some good examples of this are a hip drop, overpronation of the foot, and something rotating in the leg as it is coming through (if you are someone who frequently catches your foot on your opposite calf or ankle when it is swinging through, this is likely you).
When you have these things happening in your body, there are increased stresses and strains placed upon muscles and tendons. Over time, they tell you they do not like what is happening by creating tightness or even an injury.
Not sure what to do differently? Stay tuned for next week when I talk about that!