Stretching may do more harm than good

Community: If muscles are tight, there may be a problem

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Logan Scharf, community contributor

Editor’s note: Dr. Logan Scharf is an associate at Thrive Spine and Sport, a chiropractic and soft tissue clinic in Cedar Rapids focusing on sport and overuse injuries. Scharf is a graduate of Palmer College of Chiropractic and certified by Integrative Diagnosis for the diagnosis and treatment of soft tissue injuries. 

Stretch when your muscles feel tight. We’ve spent our entire lives with this notion.

If your muscles are tight, stretch them and they won’t feel as tight. For those with perfectly healthy muscles, that would work. But for many of us, the solution to muscle tightness isn’t quite so simple.

There are two main causes of muscle tightness that must be addressed by a professional in order to resolve your problem.

1. Protective tension. Your body simply does not want you to assume a certain position because it will cause injury, something your body doesn’t want. Have you ever tried to bend over to touch your toes and felt your back and hamstrings tighten up, leaving you well short of the floor? This is a good example of protective tension. Your body fights against this position because it doesn’t want you to load the irritated and damaged areas. Another example of protective tension are muscle spasms. Your muscle is going into a spasm to take unwanted load off the injured area. When your tightness is caused by protective tension, stretching it will do more harm than good.

2. Muscle adhesion. This is another reason for excessive muscle tightness. Adhesion forms in muscles from trauma (whiplash, muscle tears, sports injuries), overusing muscles through repetitive movements (overtraining muscle groups at the gym, playing sports, jobs requiring the same motions day in and day out), or prolonged positions from long periods of sitting or standing (desk jobs, long hours of driving). Because of this, your body is chemically tricked into repairing itself with adhesion. It’s as if somebody poured glue into the muscle, making it unable to stretch or contract properly. When adhesion is present, it decreases your range of motion, decreases strength and increases pain. Stretching won’t make adhesion go away.

If you have pain and limited mobility, stretching could be doing more harm than good. Protective tension always is a sign of something wrong. You need to find out what that is before things get worse. Adhesion is the most common and under diagnosed problem in the human body. Fortunately it is highly reversible, but you need a proper diagnosis and treatment from an expert.

• For more information, email Scharf at or visit

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