By: Erin E. Ducat DC, CSCS, CCSP
How many people do you know that are constantly stretching their low backs and hamstrings? What about necks or shoulder blades? Do they ever seem to “win the battle” and fix the area after stretching? Are they stuck in a “stretch cycle” that only gives them temporary relief and a house full of stretching straps, foam rollers and other self-massage gizmos?
The body is divided into different zones that are meant to be either stable (tighter) or mobile (flexible). These zones alternate from head to toe and keep your body pain and injury free if they are kept in balance. In the physical therapy and fitness world, we call this concept the Joint By Joint Approach.
For instance, the low back area is supposed to be a stable region. The muscles, joints and ligaments are built to control movement and support the delicate nerves located in the spine and sciatic region. Just above and below the low back is the thoracic spine/rib cage and the hip region. These areas are made to be mobile or flexible.
If your low back starts to ache and you don’t know about the Joint By Joint Approach, your first instinct is to stretch your low back, because that’s what hurts. This makes the painful area flexible when it shouldn’t be and the thoracic spine/rib cage and hip muscles try to tighten to make up for the wiggly, painful spot. This creates more pain because now three regions of your body aren’t moving the way they are intended. You try to stretch your back again, which makes it even more wiggly and the thoracic spine/rib cage and hips spasm even more…I think you’re starting to get the picture now how people get stuck in this cycle.
So with a little knowledge, you can start to target your bodies stable and mobile zones with appropriate fitness approaches. In general (because there are always exceptions to the rule!), you should focus on stretching your ankles, hips, thoracic spine/rib cage, shoulders, jaw and forearms. Work on strengthening your feet, knees, low back, shoulder blades, neck and wrists. This will help you keep your body in correct balance.
To get you started on your journey, here’s a stretch called the Brettzel that targets several mobile zones that need flexibility all at once (shoulders, thoracic spine/rib cage and hips). Click on the link or picture for the video instructions.
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