After sitting at your desk for hours, you slowly stand and reach for the sky or bend to touch your toes. You know it helps you feel better, but do you know why?
Dr. Dinash Yanamadula and Dr. Christine Savela do, and they’re here to explain the biology behind stretching. At Princeton Pain & Spine Institute in Lawrenceville and Edgewater, New Jersey, our team often incorporates stretching into our physical therapy treatment plans to address inflammation and pain, and here’s why.
The science behind stretching
When you elongate your muscles, extend your limbs, and bend your back, you trigger beneficial biological events that reduce inflammation and pain in your body. You’ve probably stretched, bent, and twisted after a long sedentary desk session or a particularly grueling day of manual labor, instinctively knowing it would make you feel better — and you’re onto something. Here’s what stretching does for you.
Stretching boosts your circulation
Stretching your muscles also stretches your blood vessels, allowing them to relax and improve your vascular function. Relaxed blood vessels enable your heart to send more blood with each beat, and your whole body benefits from the increased oxygen.
Stretching makes you more flexible
Sitting for hours on end shortens your muscles and stiffens your joints — a recipe for pain and inflammation. But stretching regularly keeps you flexible and nimble, so you can move easily and enjoy an active, pain-free life.
Stretching relieves stress
Pain is stressful, and stress leads to pain — fortunately, stretching can help break the cycle. Studies show that static stretches, where you stretch a muscle to its near max and hold it for 15-20 seconds, can trigger your parasympathetic nervous system and reduce stress.
Stretching improves your posture
Poor posture tightens your muscles and throws your body out of alignment, potentially contributing to chronic pain. However, regular stretching relaxes your muscles and retrains them to hold your body in a neutral position that relieves your pain.
Stretching releases endorphins
Your body produces “feel-good” hormones that block pain and increase pleasure — endorphins. The name “endorphine” is a mash-up of “endogenous” (within the body) and “morphine” (an opioid pain reliever). Stretching releases endorphins, your body’s natural pain reliever.
How to stretch for pain relief
Although stretching comes with a long list of pain-reducing benefits, doing it the wrong way can cause or worsen pain, so don’t embark on a stretching routine without checking in with Dr. Savela. She assesses your condition and your goals before developing a personalized stretching plan that targets specific muscles. She also shows you how to perform them properly to avoid injury or recovery setbacks.
Stretching may feel uncomfortable at times, but it should never hurt. Dr. Savela teaches you how to listen to your body and recognize its limits. It’s also important to breathe properly as you stretch, so we demonstrate how to keep oxygen flowing during your stretching routine.
We may also recommend complementary physical therapy modalities to supplement your stretches. Exercises that strengthen your core and support muscles go hand in hand with stretching. Electrical nerve stimulation and therapeutic ultrasound also reduce pain and inflammation, so we may add them to your treatment plan.
To learn more about how stretching reduces pain, call Princeton Pain & Spine in Lawrenceville or Edgewater or request an appointment online.