How to Relieve Tight Muscles with Mindful Stretching

physical therapist demonstrating stretches

Relieve Tight Muscles with Mindful Stretching

Restricted activity and decreased movement due to the COVID-19 quarantine have left many of us feeling tight, sore and achy. Through mindful stretching we can improve functional performance as well as maintain mobility as we age. Understanding more on the basics of stretching and the mind-body connection can help you safely incorporate it into your daily routine to help you improve flexibility and range of motion and relieve tight muscles and stiffness.

The Basics of Mindful Stretching:

Let’s start with the basics about how muscles work in order to gain a better understanding of what is happening to the body while stretching. When holding a stretch, muscle cells relax and elongate. Over time, this tension stimulates change within the muscle which leads to increased elasticity. However, if not maintained, these changes are only temporary.

The muscle itself is only part of the equation. Believe it or not, this achiness that comes with inactivity is often related to nerves. Through the nervous system, the brain controls every single cell and muscle movement. When we move, the brain sends a signal through the nerve pathway that causes our muscles to activate. In turn, the muscles, through small sensors of their own, send signals back to the brain to regulate how far the muscles should stretch in order to reduce overstretching and injury. Think of it like a rubber band—if stretched too far, it will inevitably break. 

Just as muscle cells adapt to stretching over time, so do our brain and stretch receptors depending on how far we stretch and how often we move. The goal of stretching is to improve joint and muscle motion by moving our joints and muscles into positions beyond our body’s normal range of motion. This can cause some people to feel anxious or afraid, especially if they have been dealing with pain or injury or are post-surgery. These emotions can heighten our nervous system’s sensitivity which in turn can make stretching and movement more difficult. The mind-body connection can help people remain calm and embrace a stretch versus fighting through it which can make stretching more relaxing and successful. One mindfulness technique involves shifting your focus to your breath. Doing so helps relax the body and nervous system resulting in improved effectiveness. Physical therapists use this and many other techniques to guide patients through stretching

Tight Muscles are a Thing of the Past with Excel PT

Zach Vandenberg, Excel PT’s newest physical therapist shares a number of useful stretches that can be modified for all abilities in this video. Zach is passionate about helping people recover from injuries, learn how to move and live without pain. He enjoys running, biking and yoga and commonly incorporates these activities in his therapeutic approach. 

To learn more about stretching or flexibility practices like beginner yoga, check out Dr. Vandenberg’s stretching video below, then take a look at the helpful links at the end of this article. If you are experiencing pain, are looking to relieve tight muscles, would like to improve mobility or have a specific issue you would like assessed, Excel PT is here to help.

Here are some links you may find helpful!