Probably the single-most often repeated instructions I give are about stretching. I recommend a huge variety of stretches since every patient is different, but the proper technique for relaxing tight and spasming muscles is always the same. Let me teach you how. And if you’re wanting to prevent problems with muscle tension, also read the article, “When to Stretch.”
The three principles of stretching are: Gentle, Rhythmic & Often. Let’s discuss them one at a time.
(1) The first principle of stretching is that you should never feel pain when stretching. I know you’re heard the old adage, “No pain, no gain,” but that only applies when you’re trying to build stronger muscles, and they are not injured. When you need to counteract muscle tension, the best technique is to gently approach end-range, but not to the point of causing pain. If it hurts, you’re going too far. Ease up a little and you’ll get better results.
(2) The second principle of stretching is that you should subtly back off from end-range before you’ve held it for 3 seconds, and then repeat going back (without pain) towards end-range 10 times. If you hold the stretch at end-range for longer than 3 seconds, your muscles will feel vulnerable and slightly contract in order to protect you. The best way to circumvent that is to release the tension on the stretch before 3 seconds. Repeat 10 times, which will only take about 30 seconds per side, or a minute if done bilaterally.
(3) The third principle of stretching is that frequency is more important than duration. If you have a sore and tight muscle it is more useful to stretch it for 30 seconds 5, 10, or 15 times/day rather than only stretching it once for a longer period of time.