In this post, we’re going to talk about stretching, which was another important factor in my recovery.
I found it happened more in the winter, especially after swimming. because your muscles naturally tense up to conserve heat energy when you’re cold. Unfortunately, I’m the kind of person who gets cold pretty easily, so visiting my gym pool in the evening — and then having to rush out right before they closed– wasn’t always easy on me.
What I learned is that if I made a point to stay as warm as possible on my way home from the gym, and to go through my stretching routine immediately once I get home, I could limit the muscle tightness that built up.
When all else failed, I’d go and get a massage. But over time, I learned how to avoid getting to this point, and to keep my muscles functioning optimally with a thorough stretching routine.
Tight muscles can affect the SI joint
There’s something really important to keep in mind about stretching, though:
You want to stretch the muscles around the joint– NOT the joint itself.
I get a lot of people coming to my blog from search engines using keywords such as “stretching SI joint.” (Don’t worry, I can’t see anything about you other than what you typed into Google to get here!).
And when I see search terms like this, I worry a little bit. Because I really hope people aren’t trying to stretch the SI joint itself.
You need to stretch your muscles to help them function optimally, but you do NOT want to stretch your ligaments! It’s actually the opposite. You actually want to leave the ligaments alone as much as possible so that they can heal.
When I first developed SI joint dysfunction, I struggled to find a way to stretch that didn’t exacerbate my joints.
The first few PT’s I saw all gave me a bunch of stretches that made things worse. I’d get down onto the floor to stretch, and get back up barely able to move.
For a while, I thought stretching just wasn’t for me, because there didn’t seem to be any way I could do it without having a major setback.
However, I really suffered from never being able to stretch. Over time, different muscle groups in my body would become super tight. My quads, in particular (the muscles in the front of the thigh) were almost permanently tight, and would be tired before I even began my pool workouts.
A big part of my getting better was learning to think creatively about how to stretch.
My physical therapist Paula was the first person who really was able to help me on my journey. One of the things that set her apart was she didn’t have just ONE way for me to do my stretches. I’d encountered that from other PT’s in the past– it was like, you have to do this exercise THIS way, or else.
Paula was a much more flexible thinker. For her, it wasn’t about what specific “stretch” I needed to do, so much as which muscle I needed to stretch. And any way I could do that, without pain, was fine with her.
In fact, Paula helped re-frame the way I saw stretching and exercise in general. From her, I learned there were multiple ways I could choose from to stretch the muscles I needed to. If I couldn’t do a certain stretch, there was something wrong with the stretch, not with me.
I’ll share be more info on my stretches routine in future posts, but for now, check out these two which made a big difference for me!
#1: Single leg knee to chest : for the hip extensors (the muscles in the back of the hip)
This is a great stretch for the muscles we commonly refer to as “the glutes.”
Basically, you’re lying on your back with both knees bent. Then you very gently raise one leg up at a time up towards your chest, holding for approximately 30 seconds each. Be sure you keep the other leg (the one that is still on the ground) bent as well.
#2 Seated hamstring chest: for the hamstrings (the muscles in the back of the thigh)
Be sure to pay attention to what she says about having proper posture when you do this– it totally changes the stretch if you’re slumping.
Okay, I think that’s just about everything for now!