Center for Therapeutic Massage and Athletics

Counterintuitive Approaches to Health & Prevention

Stretching

Why when you stretch does the muscle you are stretching contract?

It’s called the stretch reflex, when a muscle reaches the end of its range of motion it contracts as a protective mechanism. Why does it seem counterintuitive that muscles have no other function than to contract and release? To top that, few of us know that you have to contract one muscle to release another.

Why is stretching counterintuitive?

What are we doing when we stretch? When we stretch and hold for a prolonged period, we tear muscle fiber that requires time to heal before exertion, thus we risk greater vulnerability in the muscle. This newly torn muscle then requires attention and training to accustom it to a new length no matter how small. If we stretch in short increments 5–20 seconds the muscle will contract to protect itself by resisting the activity. Exertion after this type of stretch will contract an already cold and contracted muscle, making it more susceptible to injury.

The conclusion is that stretching cannot be used to prevent injury but may be used to create greater mobility. The candidates for stretch are athletes who require longer strides and greater strength in hyperextension. For the rest of us it feels good to mobilize our joints. Bear in mind that no one can effectively stretch themselves, it is best done only with the aid a of a trainer. We all must learn to mitigate repetitive muscle tension.

Analgesics for Healing

We are continually being sold one “pain fighter” or another under the guise of actually being “pain fighters,” when in truth they have no therapeutic value for healing. By definition, an analgesic is a substance that changes pain reception from pain to hot and cold sensation. This substance is usually menthysalicylate, which should not be used by: persons on blood-thinning drugs, during pregnancy or by nursing mothers, or when taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). It is suspected that menthysalicylate enters the blood stream and may affect other organs and even breast milk.

How to tell an aspirin where to go?

The blood stream is a rapid delivery system in the body. Often, we incur minor aches and pains for which we employ aspirin every four hours. This quantity of aspirin could affect us in adverse ways. It is counterintuitive to think that by taking only one aspirin, and a moment later applying wet heat to the affected area, it will result in greater aspirin-laden blood flow to the area.

Aspirin is a heat-seeker. After taking aspirin, and it enters the blood stream, aspirin will go to the area/tissues where heat is applied. Otherwise, the concentration of aspiring has to be totally pervasive in the body for it to be effective, especially if the injury is significant. Conversely, if cold is applied to an injured area, and aspirin is ingested, this will slow down healing.

Ice application prohibits the movement of blood through an area and can make that injury chronic and stop the healing process. Cold application and aspirin both slow the production of prostaglandins in the blood. Prostaglandins are hormones that create a pain effect but this is the first step in the body’s healing. The aspirin produces prostaglandins in the area to which you can apply heat to speed healing.

Heating Pads and the Body

We continuously use electrical household current against our bodies without a thought of how our bodies are affected by house voltage. Atrioventricular nodes are part of the body’s electrical system and they regulate and conduct impulses, or electrical signals, from the upper part of the atria to the lower ventricles of the heart. Much like these nodes, pacemakers regulate heartbeat. Atrioventricular nodes regulate electrical impulses in the body and are greatly influenced by a constant electrical stimulus. Consequently, when a stronger electrical signal is placed against the body, like a household current, the nodes will try to mimic it. Therefore, if the area is already excited and inflamed, the electrical stimulus may maintain and prolong that inflammation.

When to Apply Hot and Cold

We use cold for everything...pain, swelling, inflammation, sprains, muscle tears…everything! After a while those areas become chronically dull and achy because repeated contact with cold slows or arrests blood flow, thus retarding the healing process. Cold will anesthetize the area allowing a practitioner to mobilize the joint targeted for therapy. The practitioner will, however, contrast this area with heat in order to continue the blood flow and healing.

The best rationale for hot versus cold is that in the first 15 minutes after injury, cold curtails the size of the wound area. Once the area returns to body temperature, healing can be enhanced by the application of warm to hot compresses to continue blood flow for healing. If the area is swollen and not hot, this indicates that there is fluid trapped in that area. Warmth can be applied to continue circulation throughout the area. If pain and swelling persist, or become worse, discontinue attempts to mitigate and seek professional help.

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