Overstretched

How to stretch without becoming overstretched? 

Stretching calms down nerve implulses going back and forth between the muscle and brain. It calms down overactive muscle fibers. Relief!

But intense stretching pulls my joints apart, causing poor alignment, wandering kneecaps and a visit from my enemy, Mr. Pain. I want to be less flexible. But I do need some stretching. Let’s explore this complicated terrain, shall we? 

My story picks up at the end of last week’s post. I had spent the weekend at Disneyland, walking 16 miles over both days. On Sunday, we skipped the shuttle and walked fast 2 miles out of Disneyland back to the hotel, for an entirely other reason than I wrote about before: I needed the stretching.

 Disneyland in December.

Disneyland in December.

The parks were so crowded that we could not walk at a good pace. We could only shuffle along with the rest of the tourists. After two days of constricted walking with short steps, my legs needed a good stretch. I best get that by walking fast, taking very long strides. So we walked fast 2 miles to our hotel. No one slowed us down. We had the sidewalks to ourselves. Everyone else was on the shuttle.

I learned to walk properly from this book. I will link this book again in this post, as this book is really that helpful. Many years ago, I read every posture book I could find at the library, watched every DVD library had, and ordered many other posture materials online. (There was not much on YouTube then.) This book was the best. Even though I am seriously knock-kneed with deformed feet, by using these guidelines, I am able to walk miles and miles day after day with little discomfort. Over time, I became able to walk faster and take bigger steps. Yay for me! This book also showed me how to use my spine properly, so I stopped straining it. This made my spine very happy. Yay!!!!!!

What exercise could be more natural for a human than walking

Adding speed and impact to walking encourages core engagement, which means my brain senses I am in action and tells my deep muscles to get to work stabilizing my precious spine. Hauling my own body weight around fast is an intense exercise, and I get wonderful blood flow all around. Walking evens out my strength and muscle length on both sides of my body.

We could also call fast walking with long strides a dynamic stretch. 

Dynamic Stretching

dynamic stretching. n. a type of sports fitness routine in which momentum and active muscular effort are used to stretch and the end position is not held. Walking lunges is an example of dynamic stretch.
- from somewhere on the internet  

I need stretching targeted to correct my own personal muscle imbalances, and I need to do it in a way that minimizes pulling joints apart, or into an extreme range of motion. Dynamic stretching does it best.

Muscle Imbalances

If you regularly use the muscles on one side a lot more than the other, they get stronger, shorter and tighter. On the other side, the muscles get weaker, longer and looser. The shorter, stronger muscles pull that part of your body out of position, and your whole body will end up making adjustments to compensate.
- from somewhere on the internet

Good explanation. Ouch!

By keeping my muscles as even as possible, in terms of strength and length, I reduce or eliminate much aching and spasming. You can slog through this NIH article for more on the fantastically complicated phenomenon of muscle pain.

For me, static stretching leads to problems.

Static Stretching

Static stretching means a stretch is held in a challenging position for a period of time, usually somewhere between 10 to 30 seconds. Static stretching is the most common form of stretching found in general fitness.
- from somewhere on the internet

I do only a small amount of static stretching, only as needed. My muscles that usually need it are my calves and hamstrings. I do not overindulge. I elongate what is tight and making me feel lopsided, and end there. I own muscle charts and books on muscles so I can figure out where the tightness is. 

Research suggests that static stretching before exercise promotes injury. Static stretching downregulates nerves in the muscles, making them temporarily less responsive, less able to protect the body from injury. Empowered by this knowledge, I save any static stretches for bedtime. Then I hop into bed. I want to stay out of trouble.

Generally, I static stretch every other day or even less. I just don’t need more than that. I get stretched enough through activity and exercise and moving during the day. I take great care to maintain proper posture and use my joints well. The book that taught me to use my joints well is the same one linked at the start of this post.

Stretch Less, Move Better from Foam Rolling

Trauma to muscles causes scar tissue to build in weird places and in strange ways. Those adhesions alter muscle function, and not for the better. Those are what those knots in muscles are. Foam rolling stimulates the body to break down and repair the knots. With those out of the way, you can get a more effective stretch. Your muscles can do their job better, so your joints will be more supported and protected. You may not crave as much stretching when those are healed. You may have more time for fun.

Foam rolling is also relaxing. And a workout. Pulling your bodyweight over the roll takes real strength.

 Easing the strain of travel, foam rolling in a hotel room.

Easing the strain of travel, foam rolling in a hotel room.

I started with a very soft foam roller. My musculoskeletal system had to learn to adjust to the pressure. 

My current favorite is the Rollga. That thing is awesome!

I foam roll about once per week these days. 

It would be a good idea to pay a trainer or physical therapist to teach you to foam roll properly so you do not hurt yourself, and get the best results you can. You deserve that. You will want to find someone who has studied exercise physiology, training in the science of the human musculoskeletal system.

Yoga

I like some yoga stretches because they are complex enough to address hard to release muscles, such as those that wrap the pelvis and sacrum.

I own a Yoga FitDeck and I pull out cards as needed and only do as much as will give me relief. These stretches are not part of my regular routine. I use them if I have been stuck on a plane or something, setting off unusual strain and spasming. This became less of an occurrence, the stronger I got. I very rarely do any now. More time for fun! Yay!

I find yoga to be too extreme and put too much pressure on a joint. I want to feel a stretch in the belly of the muscle, not at on in or near a joint. I avoid Pilates for the same reason.

I stick to exercise that mimics what humans do in real life: lifting, throwing, climbing, carrying, walking, running, jumping, dancing, functional movements.

Functional Movements

Functional movements are movements based on real-world situational biomechanics. They usually involve multi-planar, multi-joint movements which place demand on the body's core musculature and innervation.
- from Wikipedia

If I am going to do an exercise that is not a functional movement, it will be for a specific purpose, such as to strengthen certain muscles to promote functional movement or better joint placement. A good physical therapist is invaluable for that. Twisting myself into a pretzel, working a pelvis tuck and jutting my head forward over and over... what is the point?

You are the Expert of You

You are the best judge of what makes your body feel better. Learn about the musculoskeletal system and exercise so you are able to make educated choices on how to exercise and stretch.  Ask your doctor and your physical therapist to explain why they think an area hurts. They can provide tremendous insight. Sometimes.

Pay attention to the results of what you do. What you need will change as your fitness and strength improves. Use a modality only as long as it serves you.

Remember, you have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (or why would you be reading this?), so take baby steps in your strengthening, stretching, exercising, and posture improvement. You can build on a little every day. Every little bit makes a difference. We get injured easily and we perceive too much through our nervous systems. Physical rehabilitation is painful even for normal people. You are in a race with no one, and you can tortoise your way to the finish line of a better quality of life. Every little bit makes a difference. Never stop trying.

I recommend shooting up vitamin C, as I could not make substantial improvements in exercise no matter how hard I tried, until I started injecting it everyday. 

I Used to Stretch More

There is nothing like the EDS agony of subluxing your tailbone, a pain I hope you are unfamiliar with, that I would not wish on my worst enemy. I devoted myself to correcting muscles in my pelvis and sacrum for that reason. With targeted stretching and strengthening, tailbone subluxing finally stopped happening. Phew! And I could spend more time having fun, and not screaming and taking morphine.

I Never Stretch My Neck

Relief from my unendurable, unending neck pain that made me beg to be guillotined came when I got my pelvic muscles balanced, my posture corrected, my shoulder blades glued to my back where they should be (not rolled forward) and the deep muscles that support my spine strong. More on that later.

The human head is quite heavy. It would be wise to get that bowling ball balanced on top of a strong and stable spine if you want to escape EDS neck pain hell. This is another good reason to avoid the neck straining movements in Pilates and yoga. 

Correcting the length and strength of my neck muscles took time. The book that taught me to correct my neck posture, ideally place my shoulders and use my neck properly is the same one I have linked twice already. Really, I think you should make it your guide!

Dancing

My favorite dynamic stretching is dancing. I get to close my eyes and move my joints in ways that feel good for me. While dancing, I am not holding any stretch and I am gently strengthening muscles that encourage joint stability, because at this point I am an expert at me, and healthy joint placement.

What is better in life than dancing?

Maybe only love.

Intramscular injections of asocrbic acid, too.

And being less flexible. So, no excessive stretching!