Top 5 Stretches to AVOID

Stretching is like dark leafy green vegetables. Some people love them. The other 99% of us feel that stretching is time consuming, mildly uncomfortable, and boring. But people who are healthy stretch. Because stretching is good for you. Right?

See this commentary [ Link: Stretching The Truth ] of what stretching does and does not accomplish.

While stretching is highly over-rated as a prelude to more vigorous exercise, it's often worthwhile in the context of physical rehab. Stretching may also serve as a simple and effective means of counteracting the daily demands we place on our bodies.

But not all stretches are created equal. Some are a waste of time and others may actually put you at increased injury risk. We've all seen and likely performed such ill-advised stretching.

I'll readily concede that there may be instances where some of these stretches may by warranted for select individuals. But here are the Top 5 stretches that most individuals should probably avoid:

Image: Dr. Gustav Zander's hip and abdominal stretching
machine circa 1880

Top 5 Stretches to Avoid:

1. Neck Circles

Neck circles are your grandfather's answer to every condition above the shoulders. Cervical disc herniation? Central canal spinal stenosis? Suboccipital muscle spasms? Whiplash? Give it some neck circles.  

It's easy to visualize how neck circles can be harmful when performed in less than ideal posture. But even in good posture, the 3 and 9 o'clock positions can be awfully hard on your neck.

2. Ankle Alphabets

This is where you are supposed to trace each letter of the alphabet with your toes. While I'm sure AAs have never caused an ankle or foot injury, neither have they helped other than possibly providing circulation to the area. There are far more specific and effective ways to strengthen and stretch the ankle, foot, and lower leg.

If your physical therapist, athletic trainer, or personal trainer has you do AAs, what they are really telling you is that you should move your ankle around while they complete their notes or something.

3. Toe Touches

Ah, toe touches. THE classic stretch, standing or seated on the ground, where the lower back and hips both bend (flex) forward. So after you had your lumbar spine and hips flexed while sitting all day at work or in class, while driving to the gym or athletic field, and while putting on your socks and shoes, you're going to stretch the back and hips into a MORE forward bent position?

There are some instances where forward bending of the spine is warranted. But far more often than not, such excessive forward bending causes problems. There are better ways to stretch the lower back and hamstrings.

4. Shoulder Circles

This is the one where a person puts the sore arm out to the side and grinds away. Despite what every gym teacher believed in the1980s, this movement is a poor choice for healthy shoulders much less sensitive ones. Sorry Mr. Waller.

Raising your arm up and back in a palms-down position compromises the space occupied by the rotator cuff tendons, subacromial bursa, and other soft tissues. Shoulder Circles cause these structures to get caught on or pinched between the humerus and shoulder blade.

5. High Five Pec Stretch

Most athletes who throw, hit, and serve with an overhead movement naturally acquire some degree of laxity or looseness in the front aspect of the shoulder joint. The rest of us desk jockeys and weekend warriors chronically sit with the shoulder blades tilted forward and the humerus seated forward in the socket of the shoulder blade. The High Five Pec Stretch is a great way to take both of these problems from bad to worse.

For healthy shoulders that enable you to do something that's worthy of an actual high five, avoid the High Five Pec Stretch.

Stay tuned for appropriate alternatives to these Bottom 5!

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