Anyone who has ever worked with me will have heard me say, “You will unlearn more than you will learn.” The other favorite saying is, “It isn’t about the pressure, but the release.” The question is, what does that mean? Both sayings are about the inaccurate information we have all heard throughout our lives. Typical information we hear often is “hold the stretch as long as you can” and “pull as hard as you can”. Even in massage, we have been taught that deeper is better. The truth is, neither one will give you the benefit of stretching or massage that you expect.
The Benefits of Massage
There are many Deep Tissue Massage Therapists in the country, and they are very successful. Most massage schools have a separate curriculum for deep tissue massage. Now, we have massage chairs, hard balls and rollers, and power guns to pound out the pain. You would think that with this deep tissue work, there would be less pain in the world today. But there are some drawbacks to deep tissue massage and knowing these may help you better understand why its gains are very limited.
The belief is, the deeper the therapist presses, the more your muscles will release. The funny thing is that massage schools teach the same thing. Most therapists, physical and massage, work as if they have the ability to release your muscles. But no one can release your muscles except you!
When your muscles feel pain from too much pressure, your brain will contract the muscle to stop the pain. This can lead to bruising or short-term relief due to fatigue. For the therapists, this can lead to long-term injuries to themselves that can force them to quit the business. Either way, you lose.
Most times my clients think I am pushing much harder than I am. The truth is, I am using about 25% of my normal force so they can have the opportunity to breathe out and relax the muscle. The beauty of this is my client can get more long-term relief and I don’t damage my hands. I get to work longer, and they get the benefit of my work.
The Benefits of Stretching
Pressure with stretching is very similar to the pressure in massage. When stretching, if I pull too hard or hold too long when there is discomfort, my brain will not allow me to reach the intended stretch. The brain contracts the muscle, trying to stop the pain. Like massage, when stretching, I close my eyes and feel the muscle stretching. My goal when stretching is not to reach a certain distance with one of my limbs. My goal is to feel the stretch in the correct place, relax the muscle, and allow my brain to see I can move that way within an injury or death. Your brain is always checking to see if everything you do is safe. Once it sees you did not hurt yourself or die from it, your brain will allow you to proceed. If I can accomplish these three things, my brain and body will respond, and my range of motion will improve up to the full range with a lot less work.
I typically do not tell athletic clients how far they should be able to move because, in their minds, they give it the “all you got” mentality, which means pulling until it gets there regardless of the pain. The old ‘No pain, no gain” mentality may lead you to an injury. Stretching is NOT a competition—it’s only about releasing the tension in the muscle so it can recover faster, and you can get back to your workout or activities faster.
What is the benefit of stretching? When I ask that of many health professionals, they reply, “it is about loosening tight muscles, warming up, or cooling down.” It is not about any of those things. The reason for stretching is to release the emotional and physical tension in the muscles which will reduce the compression on the joints and discs. Let me unpack that.
Your muscles are more emotional than physical. When focusing on muscles, most people think of muscle mass, muscle injury like a pulled or strained muscle, or instability. These are all physical aspects of the muscle. There is an emotional side that can create far more problems than the physical side and this side is more silent. We have all heard that hypertension is the silent killer in heart disease, but did you know that the emotional side of muscles is the silent killer in back injuries and joint injuries?
This is caused by chronic stress that nearly every American suffers from daily. I am not talking about traditional stress like in relationships, money, or business. I am talking about overscheduling yourself, even in retirement, the need to be on time or just running late for appointments. This type of stress will stiffen the joints and compress the spine causing damage to the bones and discs. Think about how your posture changes just by changing your emotions. Your posture is very different when you are happy versus angry, right? When you have scheduled too many things and you are running from appointment to appointment, dealing with traffic, people, and just things that get in the way, your stress level skyrockets. Your brain goes into the fight or flight response no differently than if the saber tooth tiger was chasing you. Your brain will tighten all your muscles as if they are on high alert for danger.
Since muscles cross over our joints, this tightness will push our joints closer together forcing the synovial fluid, a WD40 like substance, and begin to damage the cartilage of the joint. The muscles around the spine will begin to compress which will compress the spine, squeezing out the synovial fluid that lubricates the discs. This can lead to bulging or herniated discs, and even pinched nerves. When you add that to your daily workouts and activities, you can see how, over several years, you can create damage in your body.
Take your Time and Relax into it
The point of all this knowledge is to tell you about the need to relax. You do not need to be perfect or be the best at everything. We all need to learn to sit and be quiet with ourselves. Once I learned to accept my mistakes, (and we all will make mistakes!), and once I figured out what I am good at, then found other people to help me, sitting quietly with myself seemed easier. In the beginning, it can be very hard, but if you persist, you will get better and so will your health, and life.
What are the main factors in Chronic Stress? | The Muscle Repair Shop
Stretching is more about feeling the muscles letting go than forcing them to stretch. If you are forcing the muscle, you could be doing strength training, not stretching. Make sure you are feeling the intended muscle stretching. If not, the form could be wrong. Holding for 5 seconds allows the brain to release the muscle before it senses any danger. Repeating the stretches 10 times allows the brain to learn it is safe for the muscle to move that way.
Don’t forget the Tennis Ball Massage!
Softening your hips and back is easy when you use the tennis ball. Just lean against the wall and apply enough pressure to feel the painful area. The temptation is to press harder but resist it. Instead, breathe out and allow the muscle to soften under the ball. Then move to another spot and repeat. Continue doing this until most of the painful spots are gone. Check out previous newsletters to see the video.
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About The Muscle Repair Shop
Drawing upon his personal experience as a former competitive athlete turned wheelchair, obese, and chronic pain sufferer, Muscle Repair Shop Founder Butch Phelps decided to take his health into his own hands when at the age of 36 he was told he might not make it to his 40th birthday. Applying balanced nutrition advice from his doctor along with a sound exercise program, he went from 315 lbs. to 180 lbs. Motivated by his experience, he then acquired degrees in advanced therapeutic massage and aging sciences to help people eliminate chronic pain. This included applying his expertise in how people age, including the effects of dementia, anatomy, psychology, and the day-to-day struggles living as an older person to his practice and development of The Muscle Repair Shop’s one-of-a-kind Stretch n’ Release Technique.
Available through in-office and virtual coaching treatment sessions, this unique combination of stretching and breath work teaches the brain to release the emotional side of muscle tension and pain allows clients to find lasting relief and healing from stiffness, aches, injuries, and chronic pain. The at-home exercises come with customized instructional videos and virtual or in-office support, allowing clients to enjoy and experience life and sports as they did before limitations slowed or curtailed activities.