As passionate as I am about the value of skilled stretching, I’m equally zealous about when NOT to stretch. A common misconception in the bodywork, fitness and yoga fields is “All muscles should be stretched”. Let’s put that to rest right now. All muscles do not need to be stretched.
One of my clients came in last week with severe rhomboid/middle trap pain on her left side. When I asked her about what she thought caused it, here’s what she told me:
“My mother gave me a gift certificate for a relaxation massage which I used last week. The therapist had just taken a Thai*massage course and wanted to do some stretches before the massage. She did one where she pulled my arms away and across my body, one at a time. When she did my left, I could feel something give and it started hurting about an hour after the massage. I could kick myself for letting her stretch me!” (*I am not dissing Thai massage! I love it and get them often.)
This client is quite savvy and educated about her body. She has weakness in her left scapulae retractors (rhomboid/middle traps) because of an old shoulder injury. She manages it with regular bodywork and carefully chosen stretching and strengthening exercises. Her scapulae retractors do not need stretching. Most people’s do not. Most of the time they need strengthening.
Let’s take a brief and general look at postural and phasic muscles:
Postural muscles: also known as tonic or local muscles have an anti-gravity function – they are heavily involved in the maintenance of posture. They tend to be shortened and tightened. Another way of saying that is they tend to be overly-activated.
Phasic muscles: also known as global muscles have primarily a movement role. They are usually more superficial than postural muscles. A shortened, tight postural muscle generally results in inhibition of its associated phasic muscle which becomes weakened as a result. Think pec major and rhomboids.
Let me emphasize that this chart is a general guideline of common muscles that usually benefit from stretching (postural) and those that do not (phasic). Like everything in life thee are exceptions.
You’ll notice infraspinatus is considered a postural muscle because it’s part of the rotator cuff –a stabilizing structure. Infraspinatus is notorious for being weak, inhibited and locked-long. It rarely needs stretching. You’ll notice I do not include a stretch for it in Stretch Your Clients.
Another example is the cervical extensors. With everyone on their devices these days, do those extensors really needs stretching?
I hope this article helps you make informed decisions when to stretch and when not to stretch. Let me know what you think!