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As you know, videos are an excellent tool for learning. I made one to help visualize some traits of a muscle injury. Before looking at the video, a brief discussion should be done fist.
The technical term for a muscle injury is called a strain. More specifically it is divided into grades I, II and III. Grade III is when the muscle is completely separated into two parts. Grade II is when the muscle is still intact but, partially torn. Grade I is the most common type and is characterized by having portions of the muscle torn, yet fully intact. In other words, in grade 1 injuries, various types of x-ray or MRI studies do not show rips or tears in the muscle. The injury occurs to small, deeper portions of the muscle and are not easily seen in studies. However, all three grades produce inflammation, swelling and pain.
Some of the common or instinctive things an injured person will do is to stretch and put ice (hopefully!) on the area. Ice is always a good treatment to decrease the swelling and pressure created by inflammation. Stretching is the point where further injury can occur.
As the muscle swells, there are pressure nerve endings which are stimulated that give a feeling of stiffness to the muscle. So, the instinctive thing to do is to stretch the muscle to help lessen the tightness and hopefully make it feel better. Though it can help decrease the pain and tightness, it is typically very temporary and might help for a few minutes. The problem is that there is a high chance it will lead to further tearing of the muscle.
The reason is that the stretch is way too aggressive, even though it might not be painful when stretching. Instead, a very slight awareness of a stretch should be sensed. This awareness is typically much less than when the muscle is not injured. It’s very easy to over do it. You have to be careful and have a lot of patience.
Take a look at The Tissue Test video to drive home this point.
I read an interesting research article in the January 2018 of The Spine Journal . This paper was looking at a time period of 5 years after the last injection of steroid to the intervertebral foramen (IVF) to assess the lasting effects of decreasing leg pain. The IVF is an area of the spine where the nerve exits to go throughout the body and is often a source of pain.
The criteria for this study were people 18 years or older, the presence of a single level disc herniation as identified by MRI, radiating single leg pain for less than 6 months, a pain rating of equal to or greater than 4 out of 10 and having completed a program of conservative treatment.
The study followed 78 subjects. Of which, 58 received injections only, 14 underwent surgery only and 6 were not able to be contacted.
The overall results for both groups showed that most had excellent decrease in pain for about 6 months. However, recurrent episodes of the pain after 6 months were present for most of the subjects, regardless of the getting surgery or steroid injection. For the recurrences, subjects chose opioids, additional injections or surgery.
The authors of the study concluded that the initial effects of the the steroids are active several days yet the benefits continue for months. They conclude that the recurrences are not due to the lack of effectiveness of the steroids. Instead, factors are particular to each individual such as varied rates of degenerative changes of the disc, lifestyle activities and biomechanical factors of the subjects.
On a practical basis, if faced with this situation, an important question to ask yourself is, “Should you have surgery or injection?” Both appear to have the same long term outcome. The risk verses benefits is an important point to discuss and evaluate with your provider.
 Kennedy, D. J., Zheng, P. Z., Smuck, M., McCormick, Z.L., Huynh, L., & Schneider, B.J. (2017). A minimum of 5-year follow-up after lumbar transforaminal epidural
steroid injections in patients with lumbar radicular pain due to intervertebral disc herniation. The Spine Journal, 18. 29-35.
Functional stretching is a relatively new concept that’s replacing the traditional static type stretching for pre-activity warm-ups. As the name implies, functional stretching deals with movement related stretching that is similar to dynamic stretching, but includes sport or activity specific mimicking. More traditionally, we tend to think of this as the warm-up exercises prior to some event. Examples of functional stretching would be a sprinter that’s jogging in place or a baseball player in the on deck circle swinging the bat.
It has been interesting to read some of the recent research on static stretching versus functional stretching. One of the papers I read that was published earlier in 2014. It was analyzing athletes and comparing them between static stretching and functional stretching with emphasis placed upon muscle strength post stretching. It was shown that muscle strength decreased after static stretching, especially with regard to vertical jumping. Functional stretching actually showed an increase in strength as compared to the non-stretching control group.
These new revelations emerging about stretching will profoundly affect warm-up activities prior to sporting events. Static stretching really needs to be replaced with functional stretching in order to provide more power, increased flexibility and potentially better activity performance.
So, what kinds of activities could actually be done. It’s obvious answer seeing the baseball player or the sprinter in some of their normal pre-activity warm-ups as mentioned above, but what about if going to work out with weights or doing some kind of gym activity. A great overall body warm-up activity that’s functional, yet covering a variety of joint ranges of motion would be the jumping jack (this is a good 1:17 min YouTube video with some variations). Other functional stretching you might consider would be to imitate punching a bag, throwing a ball or kicking a soccer ball.
As a general rule of thought, start with smaller ranges of motion and gradually increase the movement as the tissues become more flexible. This might take 30 seconds, a minute or even longer. You’ll develop a sense and feel as the tissues become more flexible and warmed up. Just don’t overdo it.
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This type of stretching is very similar to the active static stretch except that dynamic stretching, the joint is going through a range of motion. By this I mean that you are actually moving the joint at the same time while sensing a little bit of a stretch on the muscle. It’s a good, simple stretch to do as a warm-up prior to your event. Be cautious with this particular type of stretching because you can actually strain the muscle if you go too quickly. This is actually a common stretch that’s often done incorrectly.
If you ever watch athletes doing some of their warm-up activities, quite often we will see them bending forward to stretch out the back of the legs and at the end range of motion are bouncing up and down reaching for the ground or toes. Now, this might be OK the well conditioned athlete and an acceptable thing for them to do, but for the vast majority of individuals bouncing at the end range of motion can only lead to an injury. The better way of doing this would be to start from an upright standing posture position and bend forward to the floor backup then return to the upright position again. Gradually you get a little further each time. Bouncing at the end range of motion can only lead to an injury.
My suggestion is to go through a small range of motion first (video above). Gradually increase the range as a muscle starts to feel more warm up. This might take 10 to 20 seconds to gradually increase that range of motion. For instance, stand up straight then bend forward a little bit and return to upright. Go slightly further each time until you can bend forward as far as you can comfortable (see diagrams above). It’s a gradual increase in the range, so don’t overdo the pull.
Position A Position B
Last blog discussed one of two different types of static stretching which is the passive type. The second variety is called active. In this method, you position which ever part of the body you’re stretching at its end range of motion and hold it at that location without moving the joint. Hence the term static (being still). The major difference between passive and active is the degree of muscle contraction. In passive stretching the joint is positioned at its end range of motion while having support or resting on some object. Active stretching still has the joint at its end range of motion, but there is no support. The muscles have to provide the support.
In position A, her hands are supporting the hip to help keep it the in the 90 degree location but is not an active part of the stretch. In position B, the quadriceps (front of the thigh) are contracting causing the hamstrings (back of thigh) to lengthen out.
In position B, you’re contracting the quadriceps and neurologically the body is trying to relax the hamstrings. There still is contraction to the hamstrings. Technically this is called an eccentric contraction which is muscle contraction as it lengthens. This is a normal physiological response and happens all the time. The eccentric contraction acts as a braking mechanism to the opposing muscle that is also contracting, but shortening (technically called concentric contraction). In this case it is the quadriceps.
The caution here is that any muscle at its end range of eccentric or concentric contraction has a far greater chance of cramping and even more susceptible when it is fatigued. So, the safest way to go about active static stretching is to slowly approach the end range of motion without fully getting to the end right away. Maintain the position for a few seconds then relax and try again. Repeat as often as you like unless you’re starting out for the first time. In this case, I’d only do several repetitions, holding for a few seconds and then call it a day. If you over did it, you might not realize it until the following day. Just take baby steps when starting out.
So why do we want to do active static stretching? Well, it is a good way to introduce blood flow into the muscle groups and get it ready of activity. It’s also a great way to begin muscular exercise routine when starting out for the first time. It doesn’t take much load to get the muscle active, especially when starting out for the first time or retraining injured muscles.