You might have noticed that a theme to my posts recently: how to do the things you need to do to get better, without also re-spraining your ligaments at the same time.
In this post, we’re going to talk about stretching, which has been another important factor in my recovery.
As I mentioned in my last post about massage, every few months I find the muscles in my hips and legs get really tight, to the point where they start affecting my workouts and, sometimes, even the way I move.
I find it happens more in the winter, 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, plus on top of that, I go swimming all winter long.
By now I know that if I try 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 can mostly limit the muscle tightness that builds up.
When all else fails, I go and get a massage. But really, the goal is to avoid getting to this point as much as possible, and keep my muscles functioning optimally with a thorough stretching routine.
Tight muscles can affect the SI joint
When my muscles do get tight, particularly my glute muscles (the muscles in the back of the hip) I find makes my SI joints a lot more likely to rotate out of place. That’s because when these muscles are tight, they are literally pulling the hip bone backwards towards the sacrum (which is what happens when it locks).
This demonstrates a concept known as muscle imbalance: when some muscles in the body are overactive, and others are underactive. It creates an uneven pull on whatever joint these muscles are supposed to act on, and can create a dysfungction.
The muscles in the back of the thigh (the hamstrings) can also have a strong effect on the SI joint as well. I’ve seen tight hamstrings listed as a potential cause of SI joint dysfunction in a few different articles now.
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 Googled 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.
The SI joint is held together by ligaments. They hold the sacrum and the two hip bones together. If you have SI joint dysfunction, these ligaments have likely been sprained, meaning they’ve been stretched out and aren’t doing a good job holding the joint together.
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 them 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 physical therapist I saw (I haven’t written about her yet) gave me a bunch of stretches that all made my SI joints lock up. 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 and desperately rushing back to the chiropractor. 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 finding a PT who was able to think creatively and helped me find a way to stretch that didn’t negatively impact my joints.
What I loved about Paula is 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 what specific 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 have to share my full routine later in a more comprehensive post, but for now, here are the most important stretches I do:
For the hip extensors (the muscles in the back of the hip): single leg knee to chest
This is a great stretch for the muscles we commonly refer to as “the glutes.” Here are some helpful instructions for how to do it. 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.
For the hamstrings (the muscles in the back of the thigh): seated hamstring stretch
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.
My stretching table
And of course, another factor that really aided in my stretching routine, of course, was this Sierra Comfort stretching table. It gave me a safe way to get into the right position to do my stretches, without having to get up and down from the floor. If you have trouble with this as well, I highly recommend it!
That just about covers it for this post, but here are some places to go for further reading:
- How I healed my SI joints without surgery
- Causes of SIJ dysfunction: acute and chronic
- Ligaments of the SI joint
- Ligament sprains vs. muscle strains
- Key Point #5: Developing a thorough stretching routine
- The goal of strengthening is to maximize your body’s own support system (talks about strengthening without re-spraining ligaments)
Hope this was helpful!