Back Pain Lower Back and Pain Shoulder Neck - Stretching

By: Richard A. Convery..

Stretching; fact or fantasy? Does stretching achieve anything that is real, or is it merely a nice thing to do before getting into any demanding activity? To add a little more weight to this debate, we should throw in the issues of why, when and how a person should do this debatable thing known as stretching. In the process, we will project a bit of useful light in the space we have, on a few issues that once understood, have had life-changing effects on back and neck pain sufferers all around the world.

Let's first look at the question of why a person should stretch. Stretching, when done properly, actually accomplishes a number of physiological effects. Stretching represents precisely 50% of the essential elasticity factor vitally necessary for soft tissue, particularly muscles, to function as they should. Without elasticity, in other words, the capacity for muscles to lengthen and shorten, the joint [or joints] that the muscle crosses, cannot achieve the movement the particular joint is capable of. When a joint cannot function effectively, pain usually results.

Resistance exercise, produces and represents the other half. This is due almost entirely to the fact that resistance exercises, by design, produce a capability for the joint to create movement by the shortening of the individual muscle fibres over its length and across the joint [or joints]. Instantaneously, as the muscle on one side of the joint is contracting by telescopically shortening within itself, the corresponding [or antagonist] muscle [or muscles] on the other side lengthens via the reversal of the same telescopic process to facilitate the movement. If either process fails to occur, joint function is lost, and pain is the result. Logically, if resistance exercises are responsible for the enabling of muscle fibres to shorten, then the question needs to be asked, what creates the capacity for muscle fibres to lengthen in order to allow the joint to move? No doubt you are way ahead of me, and no doubt you have already concluded it is stretching, provided, of course, the stretching is done effectively.

There are actually a number of other reasons why stretching is essential. Stretching minimises the likelihood and predisposition of muscles tearing during rapid shortening or lengthening. Stretching also plays a major role in eliminating waste products from muscle fibres, especially waste products that have been deposited and remained within muscle fibres during exercise. When done effectively, stretching is also an effective tool in the detoxifying of muscles and the removal of adhesions.

Now to the question of When? Without stating the obvious, it is prudent to minimise the likelihood of injury in sport, particularly in contact sports or any sort of activity that involve a degree of jarring or weight-bearing. As we investigate this matter it is clear that stretching is vitally important in effectively preparing the muscle fibres for these sorts of activities. In keeping with that notion, and that of the previous paragraphs, effective stretching should also be performed comprehensively [though this needn't take more than 10 minutes] at the conclusion of these activities, but importantly before the body cools down. This policy is equally as relevant and essential for non-sporting activities that are either physically demanding or weight-bearing, including lifting or carrying activities. Possibly a potentially superfluous comment, but if a sufferer casts his or her mind back to a painful past, can it be said with assurance that stretching was routinely and effectively performed each and every time it should have been? And if that be the case, might the sufferer not be currently suffering the pain now that has led to this desperate search for a way to recover? Another factor yet to be explored in the when argument is the principle of effective stretching being performed both at the beginning and the end of each and every day, regardless of whether the day is stressfully demanding or not.

This 'seemingly obvious to some' function is essential in order to de-compress the spine [did I happen to mention that effective stretching also de-compresses the spine?....No?...perhaps I was just keeping that little gem until the end], so that the new day doesn't begin with a carried-over compressed spine from all the things you were required to do yesterday, that is even before you've added today's demands on top an already compressed and painful spine. You see, apart from the other physiological things that stretching does, it also is one of the most, if not THE most crucial, essential, and self-enabling ways to achieve one of the most foundational requirements for the recovery of any back and/or neck pain sufferer. De-compressing the spine, on a daily basis, is absolutely vital for any/all sufferers if they are to restore spinal function and reduce pain.

The final element that every other factor depends upon is the how factor. Many sufferers boast that they regularly include stretching as part of their recovery routine, however when asked to detail their routines, generally the stretches being done are either inappropriate to assist in their recovery, or the stretches are being done in such a way that they cannot possibly hope to bring about any positive result. If we look at the matter this way; I might arrange all of the pieces of a brand new piece of machinery on the workshop floor, but without the knowledge of how the pieces fit together, all I end up with is a collection of unconnected parts, and I certainly don't have a machine that works the way it should.

If we are to have a body that works the way it has in the past before the problems manifested, we must have all, or at least most of the parts in good working order and arranged in a cohesive and organised manner. If any further convincing is required that stretching plays a fundamental and unique role in the process or recovery, we might like to take a look at the animal kingdom, for example at a dog, a cat, a horse, or any other animal we can think of, and the very first thing most of these animals do after waking up, is to stretch. And considering that most of these animals have horizontal spines, whereas our spines are vertical for most of the time, and especially considering that we often carry extra loads, the need for us humans to stretch regularly and do so effectively will probably leap vertically up our own priority scales. Add to this the lesson from the feathered species, and we learn that birds actually stretch almost continuously throughout the day and night, and not just when they wake up. So, please, remind me again who the intelligent ones are??!! Stretching, we should overwhelmingly conclude, is far more than just a trendy fad, and when done correctly, becomes an essential ingredient in any recovery regime for back or neck pain sufferers [or then again, possibly sufferers might opt for surgery, or lifetimes of medication dependency, or maybe an acceptance of hopelessness, but that's unlikely the reason you have chosen to read this and other articles].

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Richard A. Convery is an expert on neck and back pain relief. Over many years he has been helping many thousands of people to alleviate their pain; shoulder neck, upper back pain and back pain lower back you can visit his back pain site at lower back pain exercise to learn more.

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