People can be classified into two categories: those who have back pain and those who will get back pain. But according to Kristian Berg, author of the upcoming Prescriptive Stretching (Human Kinetics, 2011), the inevitability of back pain can be avoided with stretching.
“During a stretch there is increased blood flow to the muscle, causing it to relax,” Berg explains. “As circulation increases, the blood washes substances that cause pain out of the muscle, thereby decreasing pain.”
He notes that people often don't see the consequences of not stretching until they are reminded by pain in the body. “You save up for pain—the body doesn't forget what you've been up to the last 20 years,” Berg says.
Berg advises stretching daily and believes it should be part of daily body maintenance, likening it to the habit of brushing one's teeth. In Prescriptive Stretching, he offers four principles for an effective and safe stretching routine.
- Avoid pain. When stretching correctly, muscles will react in the desired manner. But, if muscles are stretched to the point of pain, the body's defense mechanisms will kick in. “When muscles register pain, they try to protect themselves by contracting, which is the opposite of what you want to achieve,” Berg says. “But, slight pain during a stretch can feel good if the pain doesn't spread to the rest of the body.” Distinguishing between the burn of stretching and pain is vital.
- Stretch slowly. Stretching should be progressive and never forceful. “If you throw your arms or legs out during the stretch, the muscle will stretch too fast,” Berg says. “The body will try to protect the muscle by contracting it, preventing you from reaching your goal.”
- Stretch the correct muscle. “Although this sounds obvious, you must use proper technique to follow this rule,” Berg notes. Movement that goes a couple of degrees in the wrong direction can mean the difference between stretching the muscle and pulling on the joint capsule or similarly harming the body.
- Avoid affecting other muscles and joints. Stretching that is careless or poorly done can negatively affect other muscles and joints, actually worsening your condition. “This common mistake is the main reason why some people consider stretching worthless or painful,” Berg says.
Prescriptive Stretching presents detailed visual instruction on 40 stretches using full-color anatomical illustrations to demonstrate exactly how each stretch targets a specific muscle.
For more information see Prescriptive Stretching.