Why you should not stretch your ligamentsand how you can tell if you are

I repeat, stretching the ligaments is unnecessary even for the performance of the most advanced gymnastic or martial arts skills! Your muscles have plenty of length to allow you to do splits, you just have to learn how to relax them.

Stay away from this kind of stretch

You can accomplish the splits—even the suspended wishbone—by reeducating the nervous system. But some Yoga asanas—the goraksha asana, the sakthi chalini, the khanda peeda asana, the gomukhasana to name a few—can only be performed by stretching the ligaments. The same goes for some popular Western stretches, including the notorious hurdler's stretch. Stay the hell away from them! They offer no athletic benefits whatsoever—at least not for our species.

Ligaments hold your joints together. They do not stretch well, except in children. Stretch a ligament by only six percent and it will tear. Even if you manage to stretch it without ripping it, do not consider yourself lucky. A ligament that has been subjected to excessive stretching undergoes microtears, gets scarred up, elongated, and weakened: a so-called plastic deformity. A stretched ligament means a loose and unstable joint just waiting for a severe injury. Or osteoarthritis; joint hypermobility leads to degenerative changes in the cartilage padding the joint.

Stay away from this kind of stretch

How can you tell if you are stretching a ligament?

If you feel discomfort or pain in the joint, you are probably doing it. For example, your hamstrings meet their tendons a few inches above your knees. If you feel a pull in the back of your knee during a hamstring stretch, obviously you are loading the ligaments and joint capsules rather than stretching your hammies. The solution is to bend the knee slightly to unload the ligaments and refocus the stretch on the area between your glutes and a hand's width above your knees.

The normal sensations during proper flexibility training are muscle tension— which may be painful.

Stretching when injured

Rehabilitation is not my area of expertise. Over the years I have learned to talk only about the things that I know something about, so I'll keep it brief. I will also limit my reflected rehab advice to minor muscle tears—everything else is your doctor's problem.

In one sentence, RICE it, then stretch it. I will not babble about RICE—Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation—because everybody else does. On to stretching.

Do it. ASAP, certainly within 24 hours. When a muscle tears, so do blood vessels. Internal bleeding causes the muscle to contract, a typical reaction to any foreign matter.

When a muscle gets injured, it retreats into spasm—just in case. This creates a couple of problems. First, healing takes forever. Hypertonicity restricts circulation. This is a useful feature immediately after the injury, to keep the swelling down, but counterproductive after a day or two.

Second, as a result of limited blood supply and inactivity, the muscle atrophies. And third, flexibility is lost. When a muscle spends much time in a shortened position, the stretch reflex becomes overly sensitive. A shorter muscle length and excessive tonus become the norm.

A weaker and tighter muscle will lead to more problems down the line. It is likely to get reinjured, and so are other, healthy, muscles, as a result of imbalance or compensation.

So stretch the damn thing! Find whatever hurts the most and do it, stopping just short of PAIN, in caps. Rehab is a cliche business—no pain, no gain.

Contract-relax stretching is very effective in relieving tension, regardless of its source. Aform of strength training, it also helps to prevent muscle atrophy. Lay off the evil stuff like the Clasp Knife for awhile and stick to low intensity Contrast Breathing or ForcedRelaxation. Do it many times throughout the day. Really focus on contracting and releasing the injured spot. You may apply pressure with your knuckles or fingertips as you flex the hurting unit.

Keep in mind that stretching is not a panacea, especially for the back. Those of you with bad backs, and if statistics do not lie, it is every other American, note on your forehead: stretching will relieve the pain, but will not fix you up.

Spasms and pain are only symptoms. The real problem is usually weakness. A weak back muscle has to contract hard just to keep you from walking on all fours—spinal erectors are 'anti-gravity muscles'. This tension is difficult to maintain, so the muscle just locks up. Movement and circulation become limited, so it gets even weaker, so it cramps even more to get even weaker to cramp even more... It's a vicious circle.

Conclusion: trying to fix a bad back with stretching is about as useful as an oil change on the Titanic. You'd better get on the first name basis with deadlifts. Power to the People!: Russian Strength Secrets for Every American will show you h o w.

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