Stretching Pain

Do you have pain when stretching or is stretching pain preventing you from stretching? Stretching can indeed be dangerous.  The resistance in a joint to stretch  is a mechanism of protection  to soft tissues in the joint to prevent over extension.  Forcing a joint beyond its normal range of motion can result in pain, sprains, strains, and tears. Flexibility training should be aimed at stretching the connective tissues within  muscles and fascia, and not the tendons and ligaments.

If you have an issue with tight tendons and ligaments it is best that you be evaluated by a physical therapist to determine the best course of action. Tears and dislocations are more likely to happen if  ligaments become overextended or weak.

Stretching pain can be avoided by administering stretching exercises with care to only stretch to the point where resistance is felt. Flexibility goals must be met slowly and carefully without attempts to overload the muscles.

Stretching pain could be due to any one of the following conditions:

  • scarring from an old injury
  • nerve adhesion
  • nerve root encroachment at the level of the spine
  • bulging or herniated discs
  • tendonitis
  • capsulitis
  • bursitis
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • joint impingement
  • connective tissue disorders

Although some trainers will take a more aggressive approach to stretching, the adage "no pain, no gain" does not have to apply when looking to gain flexibility. If you are complaining of pain during a stretch and have been cleared of all the above conditions or other pathology, then you are probably stretching too hard, or not stretching appropriately for  your goals.

A sudden stretch or particularly intense stretch can create micro-tearing leading to soreness that can last 48 hours, especially if you are stretching under load.  This can cause an excess of pain and result in more tightness. Hence, with all the efforts, nothing gets achieved in the long run. Learning how to return to neutral position after being in a stretch will assist in minimizing this.

You should not be experiencing pain while stretching. If you are complaining of stretching pain be sure to consult a physical therapist.

An example using swimming.

There are some stretching exercises that should be avoided all together in some individuals and sports. Exercises that stretch the arms backward from shoulder level and those that stretch arms up and forward from behind the back are best avoided in most swimmers. Both of these stretching exercises and others like them force the head of the humerus forward against the tendons and ligaments that surround the shoulder joint. These are the same tendons and ligaments that become chronically inflamed when swimmers develop tendonitis. Therefore, it would be wise to avoid any stretching exercises  that could precipitate or exacerbate this condition.

Click here for some appropriate stretches for swimmers.