When I follow my own advice I’m fine. When I don’t, it’s not pretty.
Over and over again I tell clients to stretch after workouts. The truth is that I don’t like stretching. I can get away without stretching until I can’t. That happened yesterday. I got back from a bike ride and my back seized up. It wasn’t just the one bike ride that did it. It was a series of longer rides over a few days. I know, I should know better. I do know better. Still, I get back from a ride, put my bike away and I’m on to other things. That worked on Saturday and Sunday but yesterday my body revolted. Thankfully, I’ve learned a trick to speed up the relief process. I am much better today. The secret is heat.
The first and most important thing to know is that heat should not be used on an injury caused by a trauma, and it should not be applied directly to the painful area (unless instructed by a health care professional). In my case I knew that I hadn’t strained anything doing a specific movement. What happened was the muscles of my legs had tightened due to all of the work I was asking them to do. That tightness means they are slightly shorter than they should be and that results in a misalignment of other body parts. It’s the misalignment that shows up as pain. The trick for relief is to loosen up the tight muscles. Stretching is the only way to do that but heating the muscles first can assist the process.
The muscles involved in my situation were dominantly my Quadriceps (front of the thigh), Hamstrings (back of the thigh), and Glutes (buttocks). Using a heating pad I warmed up each of those areas. Once that was done I stretched everything out. I’ve done that a number of times over the past 24 hours and I am much better. If I sit for too long everything tightens up again but it is not as painful as it was yesterday, and it’s a good reminder to stretch some more.
Many of us suffer from back pain. In some cases, like mine, it can be avoided by maintaining a regular stretching routine. Using heat in this way can improve the effectiveness of stretching. A warm muscle is a much happier muscle. Regardless, all muscles work their best when they are at their optimum length. It’s best that we keep them there.
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