You probably have thought at some point during your life, “I feel really tight. I should stretch more.” We have clients tell us every week that they need better flexibility, or if they had stretched more their injury wouldn’t have happened, or they just want to know the best stretches to feel better. The real question you should be asking yourself is: Will better flexibility actually make me feel better or make me less likely to have an injury? The answer, most of the time, might surprise you.
What is Flexibility?
Flexibility is technically the ability of your muscles to stretch and lengthen. Think about a rubber band. When you try to put the rubber band around something, it has to lengthen and stretch to get bigger to fit around that stack of papers or whatever else you’re keeping together. Now let’s think about your hamstrings (the muscle in the back of your legs). When you are sitting or even just standing, they are shortened. When you try to bend forward, those muscles need to stretch and lengthen out to allow your body to move into that position. The ability of your hamstrings to lengthen and stretch is flexibility.
Why is Flexibility Important?
Without flexibility, there are a lot of movements that get really hard. Lifting things from the ground, reaching into an overhead cabinet, getting up and down from the floor all require certain muscles to be flexible. If you don’t have enough flexibility in those muscles, your body has to find a different way to move which is when compensations happen. So, in some cases, flexibility can be really important!
Do I Need Better Flexibility?
Here is where the answer gets less clear and a little more complicated. If you’re like most of our clients at District Performance & Physio, you think that your injury or pain will go away if you have better flexibility. The majority of the time, that’s just not true. There are certain cases where better flexibility will help. But, if you have a certain amount of flexibility already, more will not necessarily help. It also depends on what activity you want to do with less pain. Think about it this way, if your goal is to run without pain, better flexibility of your hamstrings won’t help. That’s because when you run your hamstring never actually needs that much length. Or, if your shoulder hurts, and you have the ability to reach all the way over your head, how much more flexibility can you really get? You don’t need any better flexibility to be able to do what you want.
So What’s Important?
A certain level of flexibility is definitely important. But, it’s definitely not always the answer. We have had dozens of clients who have been stretching for months and years and not gotten anywhere. What you really need to do is find out if flexibility is going to help or not. Some injuries respond really well to stretching and some don’t respond at all to stretching. Some might even get worse if you stretch too much. Find a physical therapy expert who understands the movement you’re trying to improve and have them perform a really thorough assessment to find out if stretching is the answer for you.