Depending on the pain, stretching can help or it can harm.
When pain sets in, the first thing many of us do is take inventory of what changes we’ll need to make to our day. Because of pain, we may have to cancel activities and plans to keep our bodies safe and rested. But is stretching one of them?
Before we can answer this question, we need to understand the different types of pain. Pain can be acute, such as a pulled muscle, or it can be from an ongoing condition. Whether or not it is safe to exercise is entirely dependent on the cause of the pain.
If the pain you are experiencing is due to a soft tissue injury that has happened in the last few days, skip the stretch. During this time, you should be resting the injury and elevating it above your heart for as much time as possible. If the injury happened a little while ago, and the area is tender but no longer painful, you can go ahead and reintroduce some gentle stretching. But if anything begins to hurt, get out of the stretch carefully. For more detailed information on soft tissue recovery and when to begin stretching, check out this article!
However, if the pain you are experiencing is chronic, gentle stretching is usually safe. In fact, in many conditions involving chronic pain, such as arthritis and chronic back pain, gentle movement can help you manage symptoms.
On a physical level, stretching can alleviate the stiffness and muscle aches associated with chronic pain. This is why regular, gentle stretching is a great tool for pain management for those dealing with chronic pain.
Another easily overlooked benefit of stretching for those dealing with chronic pain are the mental benefits. Stretching boosts our mood, making us feel calmer and happier. Dealing with a chronic pain flare-up can make us feel discouraged, disconnected from our body, and depressed. Incorporating some gentle movement can help you feel more connected to your body and boost your mood.
All this being said, chronic pain can be caused by a number of conditions, so, of course, this will not be true for everybody. Listen to your body, and always consult your healthcare provider before beginning any new exercise.
Interested in managing your pain with movement? We have an entire playlist in the on-demand library dedicated to pain management.