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If Stretching Does Not Prevent Running Injury, Why Should I Stetrch When Injured?

Self mobilization and stretching are an important part of the running injury recovery process. These techniques allow you not only to release stiffness and improve scarring and inflexibility, but also increase your body awareness and provide a mechanism for self-diagnosis during healing and in the future should another problem arise.

While performing this aspect of recovery, you are trying to find something in your body’s biomechanics that has been tightened, weakened, or is out of alignment. These changes are contributing to your running injury, and being aware of them and how they affect your movement will bring you one step closer to recovery.  Injuries also affect the communication pathways between your nervous system and your musculoskeletal system, which includes your strength, coordination, and motor control.  It is vital to incorporate what you feel into your stretch/mobilization cycles in order to benefit from the technique. You are using the stretches to find restrictions in order to work directly on the problem area.

For example – as you stretch a certain group of muscles you are likely to feel a specific area within that group that gives you the most discomfort or tightness. Because you are using your own awareness to locate this area of increased restriction and inflexibility, it doesn’t matter what the exact structure is. Many patients often ask me which structure in the body is responsible for their pain, but I try to get them to focus on what they feel rather than giving them an anatomy lesson. Often, as one area becomes unrestricted, another restricted area will become the focus of the session, making the names of structures even less worth knowing!  If runners can understand the key to healing with self-mobilization comes through an increased awareness they will be able to continue to heal themselves in the future.

Another key part of the stretch/mobilization technique is the use of tools to assist with both stretching and mobilizing tissue. While ropes, straps, or belts are often the easiest ways to assist with stretching, we use a greater variety for mobilizing. Tools for self mobilization allow you to pinpoint an area directly, and they don’t require a lot of muscle strength.  Smaller tools, such as a massage stick or small massage ball, are used for areas that are small and deep, while larger tools, such as a massage roller or large massage ball, work better for wider and shallower regions.

The pressure you apply during self-mobilization should elicit some pain – about a 5 or 6 on a scale of 0 to 10.  This pain lets you know that you are working on the right area and breaking up the restriction.  If you are feeling more pain than this with the mobilization you are pushing too hard!

You first find the stiffness by testing your flexibility with tool-assisted stretching exercises and looking for asymmetrical impairments. Then with tool-assisted self mobilizations you find pinpoint scarring and learn to release with small roll-and-strum techniques.  Next, test the stretch and release exercise looking for other movement restrictions.

The goal of the technique is to achieve symmetry between both sides, the side involved with the injury and the uninvolved side. When you are done, re-check the tissue by doing the same stretch, or performing other movements that had bothered that area to try and notice a difference in your ease of movement or range of motion. Often, you can get pretty great results with just a little work!

The Running Injury Program will teach you specific exercises using tool assisted stretch/mobilizations cycles to help you overcome your injuries.
By: Bruce R. Wilk & Austin Misiura

This post is written in part by Bruce Wilk, author of the The Running Injury Recovery Program. Bruce is also a board certified physical therapist and the director of Orthopedic Rehabilitation Specialists, a private physical therapy practice located in Miami, FL, and the president of The Runner’s High, a specialty running store also located in Miami. He is also the RCAA certified head coach of the Miami Runners Club, and has completed multiple road races himself, including 26 full marathons and four Ironman races. For more information, please visit postinjuryrunning.com, and to purchase the Running Injury Recovery Program, please visit goneforarun.com

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