How’s the stretching coming along? If you added the five (+one bonus) stretches, I bet you’re starting to realize you were a lot tighter than you thought. Like a frog in boiling water, you don’t realize the pain and stiffness you feel when it creeps up on you. Each easy stretch for flexibility targets a different tight muscle and helps you regain your flexibility.
Here’s my story. Last year, I noticed that my right shoulder was painful. Within a week or so, I had lost almost all range of movement above about shoulder height. I could barely lift my arm over my head, and if I got it there, I couldn’t bring it back down. Lowering your arm actually takes a different group of muscles than lifting it. It was so painful I couldn’t lay on my right side or wear my purse over my right shoulder or do a number of other routine tasks.
This was such a mystery to me. I had not experienced any particular injury or accident. It simply gradually started hurting until it reached a point that it was barely functional. I was pretty sure that it was a strained rotator cuff. While the injury was painful and somewhat debilitating, I did not think it was permanent, nor would it likely require surgery.
Normally, I would have gone to an Airrosti chiropractor (Dr. Robert Reass in Round Rock, TX, is our super hero) to work it out, but our current insurance doesn’t cover the cost. Actually, our insurance doesn’t cover much of anything, but that’s a different topic that would require numerous anger management sessions to delve into. I also did not think my primary doctor would do much except prescribe an anti-inflammatory medicine. Due to my chronic kidney problems, I am very careful about the amount of anti-inflammatory medicines I take.
Whereas medicines like acetaminophen damage the liver, long-term use of anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen, damage the kidneys. Kidneys are not easily replaceable, so I forego the drugs except in the most extreme of circumstances.
What options did that leave me? Rest, stretching, and ice.
First, the injury wasn’t the result of an accident. I hadn’t fallen or picked up something too heavy or been in a wreck. It just gradually started hurting. Most likely, it was a stress of some sort that affected my shoulder. That meant I didn’t need to work through the pain, or I could have ended up tearing the tendon. So, I didn’t lift my arm above where it started hurting for many weeks. I let it rest. Someone else reached for things on the top shelves or carried my bags. This took time, and I’m not a patient person.
Second, the muscles in my neck and shoulder bunched up from the pain and the stress to the rotator cuff. Tight muscles inhibit blood flow and make everything just that much more painful. I used the neck and shoulder stretches from the previous post several times a day. I stretched just until I felt a slight pull. I carefully worked the shoulder to keep if from freezing up, but I never did it to the point of serious pain. Slow and steady. Did I mention I’m not a patient person?
Finally, ice is the key for inflammation. I love my heating pad, especially during kidney flare-ups, but ice is the way to go for inflammation and injuries. I put an ice pack on my shoulder during the really rough times. It helps a lot with the pain and reduces the inflammation.
How long did this take? I’m on month five. The pain is mostly gone. I can raise and lower my arm easily, though there is still a slight twinge if I stretch too far for something out of reach. I feel like this took forever, but I know people who have had the surgery for a torn rotator cuff. Their recovery also took several months and a whole lot more money and therapy. That’s not to say there isn’t benefit from surgery or physical therapy.
Do not ignore serious pain. Some injuries can be permanent if they’re not treated quickly.
On the other hand, sitting back and popping pills will not fix anything. A regular practice of stretching keeps your muscles flexible and protects your joints.
Now, let’s add a few stretches to our introductory routine.
Shoulder side stretch. Raise one arm over your head and bend it with your hand behind your head. Take the other arm and hold your elbow (or your hand if you can’t reach your elbow), pulling it gently toward your head. Bend sideways into the stretch. You should feel a slight pull in your neck and along your side from the shoulder down to the waist. Hold for five to ten seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Arm stretch. Swing arm across your body and hold with the other arm. You should feel a stretch in the upper arm and in the shoulder across the back. Hold for five to ten seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Door stretch. Stand at a door. Put one arm up bent at the elbow to a 45 degree angle against the door jamb. Step slightly forward so that the arm is pulled back a little. You should feel the stretch in the front of the shoulder. Hold ten to fifteen seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Hip flexor stretch. Many hip flexor stretches require kneeling. That’s not always as easy or comfortable as it looks for the beginning stretcher. Here’s one that is a little easier. Find a table or chair that is slightly taller than knee height. Push it up against a wall to keep it from sliding out from under you. Raise one foot to the table/chair top and put your other foot back a bit. Lean into the raised foot. You should look like you’re trying take a giant step up. The stretch is felt in the front of the hip and groin area. Hold the stretch ten to fifteen seconds. Repeat with other leg.
Outer hip stretch. Face a table or bed that is about hip level. Raise one leg bent at the knee and place it with the knee pointed out on the top of the table/bed. Lean over the knee, twisting slightly. You should feel the stretch in the outer hip. This can be a hard one to do, but experiment with it until you feel the stretch in the right place.
Bonus stretch: My friend, Rosanne, recommends this stretch for tight hips: Standing at and holding onto the bathroom countertop, lean back into one hip to the point of where it hurts and then just hold it at that spot for about 10-20 seconds (no bouncing or moving). Alternate sides doing at least 2 per side.
Tip: Always breathe deeply during stretches. Act like a doctor is listening to your lungs. Deep breath in. Hold it for a second. Let it out. Never hold your breath during a stretch! Especially a standing stretch. You might find yourself on the floor.
Stretching really does help you feel better. It doesn’t take long to do. You can do many stretches almost anywhere. And it’s a building block to our next steps on the 12 Steps to a Healthier You Journey.
This week’s challenge: add the above five stretches (plus one bonus) to your stretching routine. All 10 (or 12) won’t take longer than 10 minutes. Go for stretching at least twice a day.
Tell me in the comments how you’re doing with the journey so far. Still drinking water?
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