Muscle Stretch vs Muscle Release

Ever had a tight muscle where no matter how much you stretched it each and every day, it was still just as tight on day 21 as day 1? Well, you’re not alone. In fact, we often have new clients at Barefoot tell us things like…“I stretch my hammy ALL THE TIME and it still feels tight.” So, why is this?

A lot of tight muscles have palpable “knots” or “trigger points” in them. These are specific areas of contracted muscle within the entire muscle belly. To target these specific “hard or ropey” spots it is more effective to perform muscle releases (using a ball, pocket physio, foam roller, dry needling or trigger point massage) rather than doing a stretch. A muscle release is sustained pressure on a trigger point, at a specific angle, held for the duration of around 90 seconds for 2-3 different spots per muscle group.

If the muscle is tight or knotty due to nerve irritation, muscle releases can still be performed, but stretching should definitely be avoided. It is difficult to know whether you have nerve irritation or not until it is tested by a qualified Physiotherapist. If you have consistently stretched a muscle correctly for >3 days and you’ve had no change, then you’ve tried doing muscle releases and there is still no change, then it is likely that there could be nerve involvement.

Stretching can be effective if you have an entire muscle group that is notably tight and is not originating from nerve irritation. If this is the case, it is important to hold your stretches for a minimum of 60 seconds each using the correct technique to have the desired effect. If you do not know the correct technique, a Physiotherapist can help teach you.

Benefits of Keeping Your Muscles Happy

  1. They feel good when they are relaxed at rest!
  2. Prevent injuries
  3. Maintain full range of motion in all of our joints
  4. Maintain strength through the full range of the muscle
  5. Better recovery post exercise/activity
  6. Reduced muscle soreness
  7. Happy muscles & joints = happy nerves!
  8. Improved sports performance
  9. Reduced headaches
  10. To stop us feeling old!
When and How?

Practicing muscle releases or stretches everyday is ideal. We recommend you set aside a minimum of 10 minutes a day to work on the areas that make the biggest difference to your body.  If you have a few areas to work on, you have had a big day at work or you are exercising at a high level, we would recommend 20-30mins.If you aren’t sure what areas need to be released in your body to help you perform better, a Barefoot Physiotherapist will do a head-to-toe assessment to work out where you need to focus on for your body.It is normal to feel some discomfort during these releases and it should stop as soon as you release the pressure. If it doesn’t, please notify your Physiotherapist to find out why. Remember to breathe while you do your releases! Breathing in & out deeply will help relax the muscle contraction and speed up the releasing effect.

Be aware of your position while you stretch/release. Our brain always likes to take the easy option, so it will sometimes sub-consciously put us in the position where we get the least resistance. This doesn’t help us achieve the flexibility we are after. Posture and technique are key to sustaining a good stretch on a muscle, so please read the side notes next to the photo examples.