Have you been going to yoga for awhile but still cannot get your heels to the floor in Downward Dog? Have you had an injury to your back or neck and no matter how much you stretch, you still feel stiff? Do you sit at work and feel achy, and stiff when you get out of your car after your commute home? Do you need more flexibility in order to improve your golf swing? There is a reason that the practice of pulling on tissue, i.e. stretching, is not helping.
The governing principle of human muscle function is that muscle tissue loses its ability to contract. This occurs for a myriad of reasons and results in various problems (to vaying degrees) in people. This change in muscle tissues' ability to contract is beyond our control. To illustrate this concept I ask my patients: "Can you prevent your hair from growing? Can you control your heartbeat?"
There are many bodily functions that are beyond conscious control and the alteration in muscle tissue contractility is one such example.
This principle can explain why the practice of stretching does not result in improved range of motion or flexibility. I am defining stretching as the act of pulling or pushing on a body part in order to improve range of motion. I am not calling an active movement or warm up a stretch. Based on the governing principle of human muscle function, allow me to support my statement that stretching will not improve flexibility.
Imagine a large tree staked to the ground with 10 lines of rope. If five of those lines of rope were cut than the remaining lines would have to work twice as hard. This increased work demand would show up as increased tension in each line of rope. Muscles are the "ropes" in our body that hold our skeleton upright. As muscle tissue loses its ability to contract, ("losing some ropes") the stuff that is working has to work harder. Tight muscle tissue is the stuff working. Tight muscle tissue is the stuff holding us up. Our brain will not allow the stuff holding us up to be released, no matter how hard we pull or push on it.
If losing muscle tissue function results in tightness and loss of flexibility, than restoring muscle tissue function should result in improved flexibility. The most effective treatment available to restore muscle tissue function is muscle activation techniques (MAT). MAT is a specific and unique process for evaluating an individual's ability to develop efficient muscle contraction(s).
I asked several of my patients how I should describe muscle activation techniques and they responded: "You have to experience it."
My word picture in regards to explaining what MAT is all about is: "How do you describe a zebra to someone who has never seen a horse?" Muscle activation techniques is an amazing process and the most effective method to improve your flexibility. The only way you will discover this is to experience it.
Sharon Hollis has a Masters degree in Physical Therapy; she is a certified hand therapist and she is the only muscle activation technique specialist in Summit and Eagle County. She practices at JointWorx Physical Therapy in Edwards. Call the office at 970-569-3883 to schedule an appointment or request a free injury screening.