As a Massage Therapist, I am constantly observing the bodies of people around me.
I watch a person’s gait as they walk, how they hold their shoulders, if they walk with a limp…I could go on and on. One location where I try to avoid watching people is at the gym, although for me it’s like averting your eyes from an accident on the highway; you know it’s going to be bad, but you just can’t help looking!
Based on my training in orthopedic massage and my current journey through STOTT Pilates certification, I want to share some do’s and don’ts when it comes to stretching. Here are the top 3 that I see at the gym and have to practically internally combust in an effort to not speak up!
These are the Massage Therapist stretching tips I recommend.
1.) Across-the-chest shoulder stretch
Yes, this is how you stretch those muscles. However, ask yourself if you are “tight” between your shoulder blades. You will most certainly feel tension there in the middle trapezius muscle, but this muscle is actually inactive, being constantly “stretched” because of our posture.
Most of us don’t spend a lot of time during the day bringing our shoulder blades closer together. Instead, we spend far more time sitting at a computer/laptop, driving, or generally with our arms out in front of us (probably even slouched!). We do this stretch because it “feels good,” but it can actually be causing damage by stretching this weakened long muscle. It can be especially dangerous if you have a winged shoulder blade, or a shoulder blade that is lifted from ribcage rather than laying flat.
So, you may ask, what do you do instead if you feel tension in the upper back and shoulder blades?
We feel tension between our shoulder blades because of poor posture, and what we really need to be doing is stretching our pectoralis minor muscle which is short and tight.
This muscle is attached to the anterior portion of the shoulder blade and helps in scapular protraction. This picture demonstrates a nice pectoralis minor stretch. Any time we stretch, we should feel it in the right place, and you should feel this stretch in your chest. If you feel it in the back of your shoulder, or if you’re pushing your neck forward to get the range of motion, STOP. Sometimes it’s more than muscle tightness and there is restricted movement in the joints themselves. Forcing movement when it’s painful can cause more damage.
2.) Leg-on-surface hamstring stretch
This picture is good because it shows that while she is reaching for her foot, she is not throwing her pelvis out of alignment. When stretching your hamstrings, your pelvis should be level. Most of us don’t have the flexibility of this young lady. What I see at the gym is people picking up their leg and throwing it onto a surface that brings the pelvis way out of alignment. I don’t know where this trend came from, but your leg should not be placed higher than your pelvis (unless of course you are a gymnast!). This incorrect stretch can cause hip mobility problems and lower back problems, not to mention the potential for a hamstring tear!
Instead of forcing your leg into an unhealthy and uncomfortable position, try stretching it gently on a lower surface. The knee of the standing leg and of the leg being stretched should not be hyperextended. If you are in a spin class for example and you decide to stretch your hamstrings at the end of the class, DO NOT throw your leg onto the high seat! Stay where you’re comfortable… there’s no prize for getting your leg the highest!
3.) Stretching your wrist extensors
This picture makes me sweat. Most of our activities as humans do not involve wrist extension. Golfing and tennis do have some extensor involvement, but our wrist flexors are much more dominant and overused. Also, whenever we stretch our wrist, we need to support the carpal tunnel.
This diagram shows the woman supporting her wrist with her thumb. Don’t stretch your wrist extensors! If you are asked to in a group class, you can just repeat the flexor stretch. Stretching your extensors can lead to carpal tunnel pain and elbow pain. If you have pain in your wrist extensors, one suggestion is to try to strengthen them. Hereare two images of wrist extensor strengthening exercises:
The three stretches I discuss here typically feel good. If someone is guiding you to do these stretches when you don’t have the knowledge of what the muscles do, then it makes sense that you would continually do them. What I hope is that this information gives you a better understanding of the stretches, and I hope that you will try the alternatives before an injury occurs. Here is a great article on stretching if you wanted to expand your knowledge even further. James Waslaki is another great resource for orthopedic massage, and I earned my orthopedic massage certification from him in 2008.
When engaging in any exercise routine, you should know why you are doing it and if it is really helping your body maintain flexibility, strength and stability. If you are curious about a stretch or exercise, feel free to contact me through my website, email me at [email protected], or call me at 603-321-6387!
My practice is located in Merrimack, NH and I’m happy to help you in any way I can.