Stretching is a great form of self care, but there are some key muscles we just aren't built to stretch.
Aaahh, stretching. There are many reasons we think we need to stretch (unfortunately most of them are wrong, but I'll address that in future posts), and there are a few very therapeutic uses for stretching. One thing stretching is definitely good for is feeling good, but it also helps to loosen up tight muscles and keep them from giving you trouble. Unfortunately, some of the muscles that could seriously benefit from stretching just can't be stretched. The reason being is that the way we are built doesn't allow for us to contort ourselves in a way that will apply tensile pressure to some key muscles. A quick breakdown of some of these muscles and why it would be awesome if we could actually stretch them: Supraspinatus and Subscapularis (2 of the 4 rotator cuff muscles) - These muscles that are part of the rotator cuff group are often the cause of pain in the shoulder, but unfortunately they can't be stretched effectively. The supraspinatus lifts the arm to the side, so moving your arm in the other direction far enough to stretch is impossible, since your torso is kinda in the way. The subscapularis is attached to the underside of the scapula, sandwiched between the shoulder blade and ribs. No matter how you try to twist your shoulder, the trigger points in the portion of the muscle attached to your scapula will not stretch out. Bummer. Quadriceps - This one is probably surprising, since we often see athletes pulling their foot back against their backsides to stretch the quads. However, though it feels like you are stretching them, it is only one of those muscles - the rectus femoris - that is stretching. The other three (vastus lateralis, vastus medius, and vastus intermedius) are not being pulled enough to stretch them. Mostly these three muscles don't cause issues, but sometimes the vastus lateralis can be a bit of a troublemaker. Pec Minor - Or, more properly, pectoralis minor. This muscle can be a major player in serious problems such as thoracic outlet syndrome, and is often the main culprit in pain between the shoulder blades. When the pecs are tight, they pull the shoulders forward. In response, muscles between the shoulder blades pull back, and that's when you feel pain there. Stretches for the pecs tend to only affect the pec major, but the pec minor is often more problematic. Suboccipitals - These little muscles at the base of the skull are the most common cause for tension headaches. However, very few people can pull their head forward far enough to stretch them effectively, because the chin hits the chest and that's as far as you can go. Tibialis anterior - This large muscle in the front of the shin is the cause of shin splints, and often involved in plantar fasciitis, both of which are extremely common and painful. Stretching this muscle would be great, but we just can't flex (plantar flexion) our foot far enough to be able to make it happen. Gluteals - Though the pigeon stretch can help with the deep six gluteal muscles, larger ones such as the gluteus maximus, minimus, and medius are not so easily stretched. It would be nice to be able to do so with ease, since these muscles are often involved in low back pain, sciatica, and leg pain. We try to stretch, we do, but it doesn't do very much. Thoracic paraspinals - The muscles along the spine on the upper half of our back are one of the most common areas of muscle aching and tension, and yet unfortunately can't be stretched because of that pesky ribcage in the way. Foot arch muscle - Because the connective tissues in the arch are shorter than the muscles, any attempt to stretch them gets stopped short. Unfortunately, these muscles get tired and sore very frequently and could use some TLC. This is most certainly not an all-inclusive list of the "unstretchables", but they are a few very important ones that can be common issues for a lot of people. Massage therapy is one of the most effective ways to stretch and get the tension out of these difficult muscles. The hands of an experienced therapist can find and focus on these problem areas and work the tension and trigger points out for you. There are also a few self massage techniques that will help with some of these muscles, which I will be talking about in future posts, so stay tuned.