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How Exactly Does Stretching Ease Pain?

Many people use stretching to ease pain and increase flexibility. Yet, how can pain be lessened by touching our toes?

For many of us, pain can be a regular occurrence. Whether it is an acute or chronic pain, it can negatively impact how we live our lives. Solutions such as painkillers or seeing a therapist can be helpful, but they are often targeting the symptom not the cause and can be expensive.

 

What causes pain?

Pain is caused by a variety of factors, from accidents to genetic conditions to various activities to immobility- even from aging itself. Often, it is caused by inflammation or poor circulation.

Your nervous system activates and sends a series of messages throughout your body. This notifies it of the pain, often causing it to try to physically escape the source. (Like how you react when you touch a hot stove, even before you can feel the burn.)

For several conditions a common suggestion for pain relief is safe exercise and movement.

 

Getting started with exercise as a form of pain relief.

For many people, though, the idea of exercise comes as a negative, overwhelming concept. The thought of going to the gym stops a lot of people in their tracks. However, you don't need to spend hours on intense and expensive workouts to notice improvements in how you feel.

Luckily, you can do all of the exercise you need right at home. While there are hundreds of yoga, Zumba, or HIIT cardio tutorials online, WeStretch combines the best movements from yoga, Pilates and physiotherapy to make a safe, effective and easy routine for you. Regardless of what you choose, the important thing is to incorporate movement into your day.

 

Does stretching releases endorphins?

Yes, stretching and exercise in general releases endorphins, which help you to feel your best.

These tiny neurochemicals are both natural pain killers and mood boosters. Endorphins are polypeptides (building blocks of protein) that are released when you do things like exercise, create art, or eat good food.

Endorphins interact with the opiate receptors in the brain to reduce the perception of pain. Combining this effect with dopamine, your overall mood becomes better and you will feel less pain.

When you don’t have enough dopamine and endorphins, your mood, mental health, and physical health will begin to plummet. You begin to feel an increase in pain, which strengthens negative feelings, which cycles back to feeling more pain. Exercise is an easy way to break this cycle.

 

A woman smiling and wearing black boxing gloves.

 

Exercise and stretching helps your blood to circulate.

Allowing your heart to change its rhythm is great for switching the speed of your blood flow and pressure. This acts as a great reset for your circulatory system. (If you want to read more about blood pressure and exercise, click here for Healthline’s medically reviewed article.)

Stretching and exercise both promote blood flow, which carries oxygen and nutrients throughout the body, helps to relieve tension, and it encourages better sleep hygiene, which restores your body.

WeStretch’s focus is to stretch every joint in every direction. This encourages improved circulation throughout the body, especially in commonly neglected areas. By safely altering the blood flow, you allow your body to clear out any waste, and bring in fresh blood containing new white blood cells, oxygen and nutrients.

 

Does stretching before bed help release muscle tension?

While endorphins encourage relaxation, stretching loosens tightness in your muscles to promote higher quality sleep. When you are tense, your body has a hard time falling asleep since it believes that you are in danger and needs to protect itself.

By allowing your body to relax, you are notifying it that you are safe and ready to begin healing through sleep. When stretching before bed, move slowly and purposefully, never pushing yourself to the point of pain. Listening to calming music, such as a spa playlist or a soothing instrumental cover can improve your sleep quality.

Be cautious not to do strenuous stretching or intense exercise right before bed, as this will wake your body up, making it more difficult to fall asleep.

 

A person sleeping with their dog.

 

Stretching can help many aliments.

While stretching alone isn’t the cure for many health concerns, it helps your body become stronger and more capable of healing. We have discovered that almost every physical or mental condition can be improved with careful stretching and exercise.

 

Arthritis

Arthritis can be a debilitating condition where inflammation flares up and cartilage wears down, causing joints to feel stiff and in pain. Gentle stretching and exercise can help the blood circulate to reduce inflammation and to lubricate the joints to regain and improve mobility.

 

Mental health

For mental health concerns, such as anxiety or depression, exercise releases endorphins, but it can also act as a grounding activity, a social outlet, and offer goals to keep you motivated.

 

Cerebral palsy

In the case of a disorder like cerebral palsy, stretching loosens tight muscles, providing relief and additional mobility. While there still needs to be more research done on the effectiveness of stretching and cerebral palsy, overall physical wellness is essential for affected children as they grow up.

One of WeStretch's super-users has cerebral palsy, and he remarks that stretching changed his life completely.

 

Delayed onset muscle soreness

Delayed onset muscle soreness from a new physical activity can be reduced by taking the time to properly stretch. Targeting specific muscles allows oxygen and nutrients to reach the new microtears that were caused by your activity. Stretching clears out the lactic acid buildup, which causes discomfort, and allows your body to ease back into its normal range of motion after exercise.

 

A group of male runners racing down a track while two officials watch.

 

Bad posture

Did you know that poor posture can account for pain throughout your body? Being out of alignment can affect your neck, shoulders, back, and hips. By stretching to strengthen your core and back muscles, you can eradicate the bulk of this type of pain by seeking to improve your posture.

 

Premenstrual syndrome

Many people who menstruate often suffer from severe cramping and other symptoms of PMS. While movement may be the furthest thing from your mind, gentle stretching and exercise can help to take the edge off of the symptoms.

 

Muscle and joint pain.

Even for people who don’t have a specific condition but have a localized pain like neck or hip pain, stretching is a great method of pain management. While a single stretch or routine may provide relief, it is recommended to do a few stretching routines over the next few days for best results.

If the pain or tightness isn’t loosening after a few days, don’t hesitate to seek help. A chiropractor or physiotherapist can help you address the concerns you can’t resolve yourself.

 

A woman leans over her leg for a good stretch.

 

How often and how long should you stretch?

Firstly, any stretching is better than none. Even stretching for five minutes gives your body a chance to move inactive muscles and release hormones throughout your body.

The second idea is that while there is no ‘set’ timeframe to hold a stretch, you need to listen to your body. Your muscles will normally feel some tension when stretching, but the moment there is pain, you should stop and rest. Typically, the warmer your body is, the longer you can comfortably hold stretches, but 60 seconds per stretch should be the longest .

 

Stretch safely to ease pain with WeStretch!

The longest that WeStretch will hold a pose is thirty seconds. Stretching for too long or pushing too far can cause hyperextension, and pain. This can be avoided by being conscious of how your body feels and resting when you push too hard.

While the number of repetions may vary with the purpose of your stretching, your body can better lubricate and heal your joints when a stretch is done more than once. Many of WeStretch's routines will repeat a specific pose 4-6 times to provide the maximum benefit.

While stretching and exercise may be the furthest things from your mind when you are in pain, take a few moments to get moving. It a short walk or doing a gentle WeStretch routine. You deserve to live a healthy and pain-free life.

 

 

Any links included are for reference, additional information, or entertainment value only, without monetary compensation. Contact us on social media or at team@westretch.ca. Photos courtesy of Unsplash.

This article is not intended to act as or replace medical advice. Please talk to your health care practitioner if you have any concerns.

 

 

Written by Kayla Willsey

 

Updated September 2, 2021