Key Point #5: Developing a Thorough Stretching Routine

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Beginning strength training was an important part of my recovery, but the other side of the coin was that, in order to really be improving the overall function of my body, I also needed to be doing a thorough stretching routine.

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Now, let me back up.  I used to be a long-distance runner.  If anyone understood, the importance of stretching, it was me.  My high-school coaches had drilled it into my head.

But once my SI joints became unstable, it really became impossible to stretch.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the mechanics of the SI joint— particularly an SI joint with compromised ligaments– are very difficult to understand.   Despite all the reading I’ve done, I still don’t completely understand them.

But I do know all of the things that used to make my SI joints lock up— including many of the motions and physical positions that were necessary for all of the stretches I knew.

I knew I needed to pick and choose my battles.  Since having my SIJ’s lock up put an immediate end to my ability to do the majority of other things I needed to do, it seemed like the most important thing to do was to keep my SIJ’s in place.  Even if it meant that I skipped the stretches I couldn’t do otherwise (which was most of them).

However, as time went on, my muscles got tighter and tighter.

It turned out my high school coaches were right when they warned us: if you exercise all the time without stretching, your muscles will get tighter, and you will suffer for it.

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Every muscle in the body has an ideal resting length that it wants to be at.  When you constantly ask a muscle to work, and you don’t stretch it, over time you cause that muscle to become shorter. 

Muscles do not work as well when they aren’t working at their ideal length.  They become tired more quickly, and have trouble generating as much force.  Simply put, they are weaker, and you end up with less range of motion.

An overworked muscle is also an irritated muscle.  This irritation, in turn, causes the muscle to produce chemicals which then signal to neighboring muscles that they should be irritated, too.  That’s when you end up with pain.

***

For me, it really started with my quads (the muscle in the front of the thigh).  They got tighter and tighter until they developed a permanent ache, which in turn started to impact my workouts.  I started icing them before I began my pool workouts, which did help a little bit, but it just wasn’t the same.

Finally, two main things happened.

1) My physical therapist Paula helped me develop a stretching routine that worked for me.

My previous PT’s, who I know now weren’t really familiar with the SI joint, gave me a bunch of stretches to do which often made me worse.  When I said I couldn’t or didn’t want to do them, we sort of hit a roadblock.  “Okay,” they’d tell me.  “Just do the stretches that don’t hurt for now.”

Of course, this wasn’t really helpful to me, because it meant there were certain muscle groups I wasn’t stretching at all.  Knowing what I know now, especially after all the classes I’ve taken, I see how not stretching certain key muscles for so long definitely prolonged my recovery.

Paula, on the other hand, was able to think past the limitations I had and modify my stretches.  I realized the previous PT’s had been thinking more about one particular way to stretch a muscle, instead of thinking about the fact that there were actually multiple ways for me to stretch any one muscle.

Paula helped me to develop a routine that allowed me to stretch all of the muscles I needed to, in positions that worked for me.  (Unfortunately, this is what the previous PT’s should have been doing, and weren’t).

You can read more about this in my post on Stretching and Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction.

2) My stretching table

I happened to be searching on Amazon one day to see if there was anything that could help me with my problem, when I discovered this portable stretching table (which you can see in the picture above).

It’s basically like a massage table, but the surface is a bit firmer (which allows you to have more control over precise movements of your body).  It’s intended for people like me, who need to be able to lie down in order to do stretches/exercises, but can’t get all the way down to the floor.

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I’ve had it for over two years now and it’s really been a lifesaver.  I count it as a big part of my recovery.

Once I purchased this table, I was able to resume a full stretching routine.  Within about a week of stretching thoroughly every day, I felt a big reduction in the tightness of my muscles, and felt as though some of my range of motion was starting to come back.

Once these two factors were in place, I was able to stay much more limber:

With my muscles able to function normally, instead of being constantly tightened up all the time, I was able to move a lot more normally.  I was able to push myself more in my workouts, and I found that my SI joints were a lot less prone to locking up (this was especially true once I started doing the one knee to chest stretch, for the muscles in the back of the hip).

I also became much less dependent on chiropractic and massage appointments, because I now had an easy and effective way to help relax my muscles myself.

To continue on: Key Point #6: When someone finally told me only one SI joint could lock up at a time

4 thoughts on “Key Point #5: Developing a Thorough Stretching Routine

  1. M says:

    So, I have this…had it for years. I found a DO in SFL who helped me but he went to some other country to help others. First time around, guided muscular injections under sedation. Three rounds. Gabapentin, amitriptyline, lyrica etc. I could walk again. Years later, same pain again. Pain in right si joint, sciatica. Mind you, I had gone from doctor to doctor before finding the DO who did OMM. Chiropractors, Neurologists, PT (a great pelvic PT guided me to the DO). Second time, DO and a neuromuscular massage therapist who focused on my psoas muscles helped me. No shots, no drugs. Healed for years. Now again. It’s always some motion of strenuous activity that typically injures someone like me. Lifting something heavy and turning or sliding something heavy repeatedly to and fro (drawers). Now I don’t have the luxury of the doctor and massage therapist. I found a DO who wants to try prolotherapy knowing I am hypermobile but feels with OMM it may help. I’m in an immense amount of pain. Prolotherapy is not covered by insurance and it’s cheaper than PRP. I have stretched and stretched while probably stretching the ligament and my joint. My right hip rotates back and the left rotates forward creating a leg-length discrepancy. Once adjusted, this normalizes but does not stay. I tried a doctor right before the one I have now in the same group who recommended PT that was not necessarily for me and probably too intense to strengthen my core. So, my question is what order do you stretch and once you weren’t inflamed, what exercises helped you the most? I understand you are a different person and what works for you might be the completely wrong thing. I saw your knee-to-chest and hamstring exercise. Any suggestions? I am looking for a PT (I found one who does NOT take insurance whatsoever). My area does not seem to be inundated with people who specialize in this. Sadly. Thanks and I hope your journey has led you to healing. I’m this close to losing my job because I can’t do the basic of tasks and the pain is unbearable. NSAIDs and today a muscle relaxer. I ice and ice. I’m surprised I’m not encased it in by now. And above all, I wish I had a pool. 🙂

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    • Sunlight in Winter says:

      Hi M., I know how you feel. Unfortunately it seems many of the highly skilled PT’s are moving away from taking insurance, as it reimburses them for less and less and also places restrictions on the some of the treatments they can offer. Of course, we patients lose out, because we have health insurance for a reason! I’m in an area with a TON of medical professionals (Boston) so I did manage to find PT’s who took my insurance (although one has since opened her own cash-based private practice).

      Have you seen my posts on what it took me to find a good PT? If you go to this page, under the Physical Therapy section, you’ll see some of my tips for trying to locate someone to help you: https://sijointsaga.com/site-guide/ I know you’ve already devoted quite a bit of time to searching, but I wonder if you add in some of my tips into your search strategy, you may find there’s someone good who takes your insurance, after all.

      I never received prolotherapy, so I never had a period of time in which I was told not to exercise. In my experience, the more time that went by after my injury that I didn’t do some form of strengthening, the weaker I got. If you look at my Core Strengthening posts on this page, you’ll see there are some gentle core exercises you can do while lying down: https://sijointsaga.com/strengthening/ (although you should still be working with a PT to ensure you’re doing them correctly). This is just how I would recommend you start out, if I was your PT.

      In particular, the transverse abdominis is the most important core muscle– it wraps around the entire front of your torso and, when contracted, helps to stabilize both the spine and the SI joint. It can be an incredibly powerful tool, and learning to contract it is more about coordination than brute strength (meaning there isn’t much risk of increasing your SI pain, compared to other exercise). Once you know how to do it, you’ll always have this tool to use, and it can stabilize you throughout the rest of your exercises as you progress.

      Feel free to let me know if you have any questions! Wishing you the best of luck on your journey!

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  2. K says:

    Did you ever post your full stretching routine? I’m not seeing it anywhere on your sight. It’s interesting to read your story. I can really relate to your struggles as you’ve searched for healing.
    Thank you!

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    • Sunlight in Winter says:

      Hi K., so glad to hear you’re enjoying my blog! No I haven’t posted my full stretching routine yet, although I definitely want to someday. (Sharing your own exercises and stretches is the hardest part of running a blog like this, at least for me!). You’ve probably seen the posts on my Stretching page by now, but just in case– I have glute and hamstring stretches up there 🙂 https://sijointsaga.com/stretching/

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