Tuesday 27 February 2018

Flexibility Isn't Always (Or Often) The Solution

You may have read last week's post about how flexibility is a mechanism that is driven by our nervous system, rather than being a structural issue like how we typically visualize it.

To further debunk the myths, let me also tell you about how flexibility work may not (or rather, is probably not) the end-all-be-all solution to pain or discomfort, contrary to what we often assume.

This assumption is made constantly! Back hurts? I need to stretch more. Recurring muscle strains? Stretch more. Knee pain? Stretch more!

However, I know plenty of regular yoga enthusiasts that still experience pain. If stretching was all that it took to keep joints and muscles healthy and happy, why would this happen?

Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of merit in flexibility, by itself, as a solution to pain or dysfunction. For instance, while there is a correlation between individuals who have poor flexibility and workplace back pain, the flexibility of non-symptomatic individuals can also be very low as well, suggesting that inflexibility is not the pain culprit, at least on its own.

A lack of flexibility is almost more like a symptom of a broader problem, not the problem itself!

So which direction do we go in, instead? Well, I can relate this back to a past post about the use(lessness) of static stretching. As I found when writing that one, it seemed that eccentric training of the hamstrings resulted in greater and longer-term range of motion increases than stretching did. As we know, a lot of muscular tension can be related back to a lack of joint strength or stability.This all suggests that, while a lack of flexibility may be associated with pain, that flexibility was only lost because of a need for more strength in the first place.

That all being said, when someone tells me that they're in pain and that they "just need to stretch more", I try to impart on them that it's not usually as simple as that. Inflexibility seems to, most often, be secondary to another underlying condition, and so we need to address that whole picture rather than just trying to stretch it out.


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