The Perils of Stretching

The Perils of Stretching

We often visit the doctor for lumbar or cervical pain and leave with an information sheet on spinal stretches. As a healthcare professional, I frequently ask patients if they are doing any exercise, and the common response is: «Yes, of course, my doctor prescribed some stretches, and I do them every day, but I still have pain…»

Let me make this very clear:

  1. Stretching is NOT exercise.
  2. Stretching is RELAXING and COMFORTABLE.
  3. Exercise HEALS but requires EFFORT.

Conclusion: Healing takes effort.

Relying solely on stretching for temporary pain relief not only prevents healing but can also worsen the problem. In cases of spinal instability, which are more common in patients with poorly developed muscles, stretching only elongates and weakens the muscles further. Many patients report that stretching worsens their pain.

Therefore, stretching in isolation is not an ideal treatment; it should be combined with muscle strengthening and progressively and appropriately tailored to each case.

In general, definitive improvement of mechanical and muscular back pain will require high-intensity muscle strengthening. However, starting with high-intensity exercises is neither recommended nor usually feasible. Instead, a progressive workout program is necessary, utilizing stretching as a complement, intelligently, adapted to each patient’s pathology, morphology, and capabilities.

Here’s a summary of the key points:

  • Stretching provides temporary relief but is not a cure for pain.
  • Stretching can worsen spinal instability in some cases.
  • Effective treatment for back pain requires muscle strengthening combined with stretching.
  • A progressive exercise program tailored to the individual is crucial.

Remember, stretching can be a beneficial part of a comprehensive pain management plan, but it should not be the sole focus. Consult with a qualified healthcare professional to develop a personalized treatment approach that addresses the root cause of your pain and promotes long-term healing.


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