In order for stretching to be an effective tool for easing aches and pains, it should first be used only in cases where it is indicated. As I wrote a few months ago in an article for massage therapists, according to Traditional Thai Medicine, stretching is indicated when the tissue layer of the body is tight.
We know the tissue is tight when range of motion is restricted. A simple example of such a restriction would be an inability to look back over your shoulder when driving or an inability to bend over and touch your toes with straight knees. In both of these cases, properly stretching the tissue contributing to these restrictions would be indicated and beneficial.
Maybe right now you are saying, “I can touch my toes, but my low back and sacrum area hurt often and stretching feels good, so why shouldn’t I stretch?” This is a common occurrence and question. Stretching generally does feel pretty good, even when it is not indicated. But, as we all probably know from some life experience or other, just because something feels good doesn’t mean it’s good for us.
And, the important thing from the Thai medical perspective is to understand that just because someone’s range of motion is not restricted does not mean the tissue is not tense. When the tissue is tense, often there is stagnation in the area that creates pain. Tense tissue can result from weakness, overuse and stress, among other things. Tense tissue needs to be relaxed through various bodywork techniques, not through stretching.
Recently, when walking with another dog lover, she told me how much her lower back and sacrum area were hurting. As I walked behind her, I observed her left hip drastically moving up and down, forward and back, and side to side with each step. In contrast, the right side of her pelvis was relatively stable, shifting just slightly up and down with each step. In this case, all the stretching she’s been doing has actually not be helping, and is maybe even making the situation worse because those hip muscles are already weak and overstretched, creating instability. Does this sound familiar?
If you aren’t sure whether or not to stretch something that’s hurting, consider consulting someone who can evaluate your range of motion and the quality of your tissue, such as an experienced bodyworker, movement professional or a physical therapist.