November 23, 2014

The Truth about Flexibility, Part 2

woman stretchingA common example of chronically stretched muscles involve the abductors of the hip. Women, who have broader pelvises than do men, are in danger of stretching out their hip abductor muscles from sleeping on their sides. Picture a woman side-lying on a bed: with the placement of her knee from the top leg on the bed, a stretch is placed on the outer portion of the “top hip” (the hip not in contact with the bed). The long and slow stretches that are often seen in yoga are analogous to sleeping with a muscle in a stretched position. Although yoga stretches are not typically imposed for as much time, the intensity of the stretch is far greater.

A chronically over-stretched muscle in many cases barely has an overlapping of the parallel fibers. The result can be an inhibited ability of the cellular bands to move over one another: a diminished quality of contraction is observed.

One of the functions of healthy muscle is to absorb the stress that we place on our bodies through walking, sitting, and performing other functional activities. An elongated and weakened muscle has a diminished capacity to absorb stress: the result is increased stress on the joints of the body. This is why a “sachet” style of walking that is often seen in hyper-flexible people, with the pelvis moving excessively from side to side, can be harmful to joint health. The joints of the lower back and the pelvis are constantly in a state of over-use as they are not receiving the “cushioned” effect that normal muscle ought to be providing.

Individuals who have muscles that are chronically overstretched are seldom aware of it. Many people actually develop neuroses about stretching. They stretch every time they get a chance and feel that it is a necessary part of their fitness routine, even if they are encountering pain. Newcomers to yoga witness the flexibility of their classmates and instructors and immediately feel inadequate. As with any group activity, a sense of competition with fellow students may also develop. There is also the basic psychological need to please your teacher. All of these factors contribute to the larger picture of muscles that are in a chronically lengthened state.

About Dan Baumstark, MSPT, CHT

Dan is a physical therapist who specializes in sports medicine & upper extremity rehabilitation. He is certified by the American Society of Hand Therapists, and he has extensive continuing education in manual therapy from the Michigan State University School of Osteopathic Medicine. Google+

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