For most people stretching is the ultimate solution. You can fix tightness and thereby prevent injuries and pain, right? Well, sort of. Tightness in a muscle is just a result of previous behavior. Dr. Perry Nickelston points out that it is usually “a by-product of inefficient movement patterns where muscles unnecessarily have to compensate or work overtime to help you achieve the objective.”.
The body is a fascinating vehicle for our mind. It can adapt to everything we put it through in order to allow us to survive. However, not every adaptation the body comes up with is ultimately desirable and many of these adaptations stay with us even when we’re no longer in the situation that caused it.
Now, in today’s world we sit a lot. We sit at the breakfast table, we sit in the car to work, we sit at work, we sit at lunch, we sit some more at work, we get back home to sit in front of the TV, you get where I’m going. The body adapts to that. The hip flexors shorten for example, but a bunch of other stuff happens as well. Because we’ve been sitting all day we’re more at risk for knee pain when we’re out and about, be that just walking up a flight of stairs or going for a rebound in Basketball.
If you were to look at this situation from an isolationist perspective you would just tell the person in question to stretch their hip flexors and work on all the other muscles that have been affected (stretch the short, strengthen the weakened, etc.). But in doing so you’re only working on muscles and thereby only small parts of the whole. Muscles work in concert to create movement and while stretching will sometimes be necessary allow you to perform certain movements properly, your ultimate goal should be to move in a way that makes stretching less important.
After all the muscles are just part of the hardware you use to move. Then there is the software: your central nervous system. By stretching we allow the hardware to “reset”, thereby enabling the software to put us into positions or perform movements that were impossible to perform before. However, it is important to note that movement, while impacted by posture and tissue quality, is ultimately controlled by the central nervous system and therefore good movement patters cannot be the result of stretching, but only of movement pattern practice (for which you might have to stretch).
Or in other words: stretch if you have to, but then practice perfect movement to hammer it home.
In the upcoming articles we will look at some postural problems and how they relate to knee pain. Please be aware that while your posture may be picture perfect (I envy you in that case), your movement patterns may still be below par. Since I want to approach knee pain from a holistic point of view we will investigate movement patterns through the Functional Movement Screen after our brief foray into posture.