Myofascial Stretching

Angie Netterville, PTA, CMT

At times when I am performing Myofascial Release on a patient, the patient will tell me that I can push harder. My response to that is that it is more about connecting to the restriction and holding long enough for the tissue to release. It doesn’t HAVE to hurt in order for it to work. The same is true when we stretch.

What makes myofascial stretching different than the stretches most of us were taught is the amount of time we hold the stretch. A lot of tutorials say that a 15 second stretch is an adequate amount of time. With myofascial stretching, we advise a minimum of a 2 minute hold and working up to 5 minutes is preferred. A short stretch will reach into the elastic component of the tissue only, and we all know what happens when you let go of elastic. Yep, it goes right back to its original length. But a prolonged stretch will reach the collagenous component of the tissue, microfibrils have time to fill in as you hold and  it gives you a more lasting result.

So if you’re trying to hold a stretch for a sustained period of time, it’s best to keep it gentle. Most of us have the tendency to push too hard while stretching making it difficult to maintain. It’s best to move into the stretch slowly, go until you feel the pull and then back out of it just a bit. If you keep it gentle, it will be easier to maintain a prolonged hold, and that is the most important part. As you hold, if it starts to feel easier to lean into the stretch a bit more, it’s okay to do so gently.

Another thing to be conscious of while stretching is what the rest of your body is doing. This again is something I ask patients to check into as I am working on them. If what I am doing is causing them to brace and contract other areas of their body, then I need to back off.

Same is true while stretching, So when you find your ideal stretch, mentally scan the rest of your body. Notice if you are bracing anywhere. Notice if you are clenching your jaw, scrunching your face, bringing your shoulders toward your ears, bracing through your hips and legs, etc. If you are able to relax and let go of resistance in other areas of the body, you will have an easier time letting go in the area you are stretching. So if you feel the need to brace elsewhere, you may need to back out a bit from your stretch so that you are able to hold.

Sustaining a stretch for 2-5 minutes may be very difficult in the beginning, but do your best to avoid going in and out of a stretch. Just be easy with yourself and increase time gradually. It helps to play soft music and attempt to hold for the length of a song. Long deep breathing will help as well as you can let go of resistance a bit more with every exhale.

As always, be kind to yourself, do what you can , and let us know if you have questions.

Angie Netterville PTA, CMT has been practicing physical therapy since 1995 and has been with Hands On since 2009. In addition to her training in Myofascial Release, Angie has a background in Pilates, athletic performance training and Kundalini yoga and meditation.