Limitations of stretching

As a side dish to the hip problem. I’ve had a bad hamstring for the past 12 months. I was doing some exercises to strengthen muscles last year when the next day I had a mild hamstring strain. It was one of those strains which is not really painful, and you think it should get better in a few days, weeks. But, whatever I did, it hung around. When I tried to cycle hard, it got worse. I tried

  • Rest – including no exercise for two months over winter.
  • Stretching – frequent and persistent stretching. When I first tried, I couldn’t reach my ankles. But, now I can get all fingers to the ground. I stretched hamstring three times a day for nine months.
  • Strength training. I progressed slowly and steadily with the Hungarian dead-lift – which is a good exercise for strengthening the hamstrings. I also bought a balance ball for another hamstring exercise. I did other exercises for all-round balanced leg and hip strength.

Since none of this made a difference. I tried osteopath and massage. I also tried trigger point therapy, where you feel for painful parts in the muscles and press it – to relieve the pressure. I did this self trigger point therapy quite a few times. One osteopath was good, and it got better for a few days, but within a week it had returned exactly the same as before.

I couldn’t understand why if you do all these things you are supposed to do, it remained stubbornly the same. Anyway, a friend in New York recommended a practitioner who offers an alternative to physical therapy – based on kinesiology. It was reassuringly expensive at $500. But, since I’ve not been buying any expensive bike components in the past few years, I thought why not. I’ve spent more on medical treatments, which haven’t worked.

The session lasted a couple of hours. It involved testing muscles. He felt a muscle which works in parallel to the hamstring had been ‘turned off’ and this is why the hamstring was liable to pick up strain. He said he reactivated the muscle and gave some exercises based on movement. One feels like a reverse stretch. Rather than stretching hamstring. you hold leg out and apply a moderate pressure to the thigh to stimulate the right muscles – opposite to the hamstring.

Since he seemed quite knowledgable about the working of the body, mind connection link. I also asked what he thought about stretching, trigger point and deep massage. He believed they often did more harm than good. I got the impression he said stretching a damaged muscle just makes it worse. He felt problem was that some muscles became turned off and the body compensates by over-working other muscles. Dealing with over-worked muscles doesn’t get to the root of the problem.

There was no instant fix. But, it seemed to make sense and I left quite energised. Since getting back from New York, I have steadily increased the cycling effort and the hamstring problems feel very much like it is on the way out. I do the simple exercises.

Will I still do stretching? When the hamstring is fully better I will do some hamstring exercises. I think mobility and being able to touch the floor is good. But, I will not push it.

2 Responses to Limitations of stretching

  1. Ian Russell September 22, 2019 at 7:45 pm #

    Interesting stuff! This isn’t related to specific injury circumstances but nonetheless you may find it an interesting watch on the scientific literature’s take on the general “limitations” of stretching https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1wjkdGouMk&t=1s

    I actually do find a few, brief, dynamic back stretches after a ride seem to help loosen me up, might be entirely my imagination but as it’s brief and feels good I’ll stick with it.

    I have however been employing more foam rolling since turning 40, as otherwise, what appears to be, the build up of muscle tension manifests itself as knee problems. On that note I increasingly read things about avoiding rolling the IT Band directly, just do the muscles around it. It does seem to keep the knee problems away in my case but I can imagine we could easily be fumbling in the dark with the body being quite so interdependent and therefore wonderfully complicated. I guess what works for you works for you and don’t think too much beyond that!

    • Ian Russell October 1, 2019 at 8:01 pm #

      As in foam rolling the muscles only, not the IT Band itself, that and getting a decent amount of sleep and eating reasonably well seem to make all the difference to my ageing body…

      Great to see you are feeling better and riding more often btw!

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