10 Maladies That Stretching Can Alleviate - dummies

10 Maladies That Stretching Can Alleviate

By Larry Payne, Georg Feuerstein, Sherri Baptiste, Doug Swenson, Stephan Bodian, LaReine Chabut, Therese Iknoian

Part of Yoga All-in-One Dummies Cheat Sheet

Stretching can help create a balance between strength and flexibility, between opposing muscle groups, between your left and right side, and between your mind and body (that’s what’s meant by “mind-body connection”). Stretching can also help solve many of the mechanical problems that create discomfort.

Pain is your body’s way of telling you there’s a problem that needs to be fixed. In addition to all the tried-and-true methods of pain relief you’re used to — like warm soaks and ice-cold packs — consider stretching as a new, powerful tool in your pain relief arsenal. Instead of reaching for that bottle of anti-inflammatory medication first to mask the problem, try a stretch or two.

Stretching is only one tool in the battle against pain, so if any of these conditions persists for longer than a couple of days, consult your healthcare professional.

Following are ten signals from your body that parts of it may be out of balance:

  • Bursitis and/or tendonitis: Overuse injuries such as bursitis and tendonitis are the result of irritation within a joint that causes inflammation.

    Bursitis is an inflammation of the bursa — a type of connective tissue that cushions tendons and helps prevent friction between the tendon and the bone. Bursitis can be caused by repetitive motion or by compression, such as when someone sleeps only on one side or wears tight shoes.

    Tendonitis is inflammation of the tendon, where the normal smooth gliding motion of the muscle disappears; it’s caused by excessive use of the tendon, which can lead to microscopic tears in the collagen that makes up the tendon. Either of these conditions can produce pain and swelling, and stretching exercises can help relieve pain, increase flexibility, and help regain functionality.

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful, progressive condition caused by compression of a key nerve in the wrist. Symptoms usually start gradually with pain, weakness, or numbness in the hand and wrist and then radiate up the arm. As symptoms worsen, people may feel tingling during the day, and decreased grip strength may make it difficult to form a fist, grasp small objects, or perform other manual tasks. Stretching can help strengthen your wrists and prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.

  • Indigestion: The causes of indigestion are many, but the solutions are few. Stretching can enhance the digestive process by massaging the intestines and initiating muscular contractions in the abdominal area, both of which can help move things along in there. Stretching is very effective in helping to reduce stress, which in turn calms your stomach.

  • Insomnia: Insomnia is the chronic inability to fall asleep or remain asleep for an adequate length of time. In many cases, insomnia is a symptom of an underlying health problem, such as depression, chronic pain, sleep apnea, or other breathing disorders. But more often than not, insomnia is primarily stress related, and stretching can help alleviate stress.

  • Low back pain: Tight muscles in your hips, thighs, and buttocks can affect you and actually put so much strain and stress on your lower back that they cause lower back pain. Regular stretching is one solution that’s been proven effective.

  • Menstrual cramps: One of the most natural, effective methods of relieving menstrual cramps is to first apply heat from either a warm bath or heating pad and then to engage in some mild stretching.

  • Plantar fasciitis: Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of a band of fibrous tissue called the fascia that runs along the bottom of your foot from the heel to the ball of the foot, which is the plantar fascia. Stretching can help the ligaments become flexible, thus relieving pain.

    In the case of chronic irritation of this area, seek your doctor’s advice, which most likely may include rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medicine, arch supports, or taping.

  • Sciatica: Sciatica is pain along the sciatic nerve. The pain, usually caused by a herniated disk of the lumbar region of the spine, then radiates to the buttocks and to the back of the thigh. Sometimes sciatica is more broadly defined as pain in the lower back, buttocks, hips, or adjacent parts.

  • Stress: If stress is a constant harsh buzz of daily activity, think of stretching as a slow, quiet Sunday afternoon you can enjoy any time you want to relieve your stress. The methodical movements in a good flexibility program provide simple, easy activities as you position your body for the next stretch. And then the stretches are followed by periods of quiet stillness as you hold the stretch.

    Try concentrating fully on the muscles that you’re stretching. This focus helps block out any stray, stress-inducing thoughts. Also, the deep, regular breathing that’s so important to effective stretching helps oxygenate your blood, which produces a reduction in overall stress and anxiety.

  • Tension headaches: Tension headaches are caused by tight, knotted muscles in your shoulders, neck, scalp, and jaw. These aches tend to occur on both sides of your head and start at the back of your skull and spread forward. The pain is often dull or squeezing, like a tight band or vice. In addition, your shoulders, neck, or jaw may feel tight and sore. If you tend to get tension headaches, stretching your shoulders and neck helps relax and relieve the tension in your muscles before they cause the headache, and then you can attack the pain before it begins.