If you’ve experienced lower back pain, neck tension, shoulder strain or leg aches at some point in your life, you’re not alone. Over 25.3 million American adults suffer from daily pain, with nearly 23.4 million suffering from “a lot of pain (1).”
As a result, we’ve come to rely on harmful painkillers and steroid creams to help dull the pain. What most people don’t realize is that this is merely a Band-Aid solution to issues that could otherwise be solved with a little stretching.
Instead of reacting to muscle pain with over-the-counter medications, we should focus on preventing it in the first place. A simple place to start is with a basic stretching routine.
How To Stretch Properly
Stretching is great for pumping the lymphatic system, and getting the blood flowing. It can help energize, and contrary to popular belief, also help tone the body. It will allow you to move easier throughout the day, and can get the stiffness out of muscles and easy creaky joints.
Stretching can also prevent injury and after-exercise pain and strain. If you’ve ever gone through an intense workout and forgot to stretch after the fact, you can guarantee you’ll be in pain the next day.
When stretching, make sure you do the following:
– Stretch after a workout – it helps the muscles relax, and allows them to grow.
– Hold stretches for at least 20-30 seconds. You’ll force the muscles to relax.
– Stretch chronically tight areas often. These areas need more attention than you might think.
– Use extra support when required (like if you need a stretching band, or need natural pain relief remedies in extremely painful cases).
While you keep the above in mind, also prevent yourself from doing the following:
– Don’t stretch in rapid motions. Pushing yourself into positions too quickly and then “bouncing” back is dangerous and will make your condition worse.
– Don’t stretch injured muscles. Even if it feels really good, you could make damage worse (I learned this the hard way).
The Best Stretches for Muscle Pain
The stretches outlined below were chosen by Marilyn Moffat, a professor of physical therapy from New York University.
Before starting the routine below, make sure you have good posture with shoulders back and pelvis tucked. Always breathe deeply when performing any stretches, and if you feel any sort of sharp pain, ease back on the stretch and go into it more gently.
1. Neck Rotation
1. Slowly turn your head to the right and hold for 30-60 seconds.
2. Face forward, and then repeat on the left side.
2. Neck Tilt
1. Tilt your head to the right and drape your right arm over your head, near the left ear.
2. Let the weight of your arm help stretch your neck (don’t pull).
3. Hold for 30-60 seconds, and then repeat on the other side.
3. Trunk Rotation
1. Cross your arms over your chest and look over your shoulder, rotating at the trunk.
2. Hold here for 30 seconds, and then face the front, and repeat on the other side.
4. Trunk Lateral Flexion
1. Sitting down, or standing up, bend to one side with the opposite side’s hand diagonally above your head.
2. Hold here for 30 seconds, and then repeat on the other side.
5. Fold Over
1. Sit tall in a chair, and then take a deep breath and slowly fold your body over your legs.
2. Make sure your neck is in a supported position so that there is no pain (don’t look forward, just keep your line of vision such that your neck remains straight).
3. Hold here for 30-60 seconds, and then slowly come back up.
6. Back Scratch
1. For this stretch, make sure that the top palm is facing the body and the bottom palm is facing out.
2. Without hunching over, reach your hands together behind your back. If you can’t reach, take a towel and hold it with either hand.
3. Hold for 30-60 seconds, and then switch sides and repeat.
7. Quad Stretch
1. Standing up straight, grab the top of your foot, and bend your knee so that it’s pointing straight down at the floor.
2. Hold this position for 30-60 seconds, and then repeat on the other leg.
8. Hip Flexor Stretch
1. Lay down on a soft surface, both feet flat on the floor, chin tucked in.
2. With one leg straight and remaining on the floor, bring the opposite knee in to your chest, wrapping your fingers around the knee and pulling in towards the armpit.
3. Hold here for 30-60 seconds, and then switch legs.
9. Piriformis Stretch
1. Lay down on the floor, with your neck straight, pelvis tucked, and feet flat on the floor.
2. Fold your right ankle over the left thigh right above the knee.
3. If you can, bring up the left thigh with your hands and pull towards your body.
4. Hold here for 30-60 seconds, and then release.
5. Repeat on the opposite side.
10. Leg Extension
1. For this exercise you can use your hands, but you can also utilize a workout band or towel.
2. Plant one foot on the floor, and if you’re using a workout band or towel, wrap it around the ball of the foot.
3. Grab the ends of the towel/workout band, and start pulling your leg close to your body, without bending the knee.
4. Try to get your leg at a 90 degree angle if you can. If you feel alright in the position, pull the leg even closer.
5. After holding for 30-60 seconds, bring the leg down, and repeat on the other side.