Stretching is a common practice for many people playing sport or participating in exercise. Many people perform a wide variety of stretching without much thought about the validity or efficacy of doing so for their joint health. Many blindly follow others with a herd-like mentality that "if so many other people do it then they must be doing something right as it has been encouraged for a long time". Unfortunately, the evidence from the majority of studies on static stretching have shown for a long time that stretching does not live up to most of the health benefits claimed, and in some studies shows it can be detrimental.
Here is an image which highlights some concerns you may want to consider if you are someone who regularly stretches. This pose with the legs crossed and feet resting on the opposite leg looks rather peaceful however some of the joints may not be so happy afterwards.
If you look at the ankle, you will notice it is twisted with the opposite leg forcing the ankle into a position which is the most common position for ankle injuries. The downward force here might be taking the ankle past its active range of motion. Could this seemingly relaxed position be adding to ankle instability and joint laxity in the tissues that are most common to injury?
When you look in the photo, you will see the knee is forced into a position which is the opposite of its normal path of motion with the lower leg and foot on the inside of the thigh either resting on the other ankle/leg or with the weight of the body pressing down into the ground. To add to this twisting at the knee, you also have a high amount of force bending the knee sideways in a direction it does not go. If you perform this posture and focus on the knee, you will notice the strain on the outside of the knee.
When would you ever need your joints to be in this position? Is this helping achieve a goal other than obtaining the posture itself?
The first thing to consider before performing an exercise is why are you choosing that particular one, and in a specific way. Just because someone else is able to get into a specific posture, doesn’t mean it is good for you, and may not even be beneficial for them either. In general, if you need to force your joints into a position by means of using other body parts (using your arms to assist) or using bodyweight, to go beyond the active range you could safely take the joint using ONLY the muscles that move that specific joint, then you may be potentially doing more harm than good.
You may be reading this and thinking "then what the hell should I do?". The good news is that there are other options if your goal is to achieve relaxation or increased range of motion that do not open you up to an increased risk of injury. We will cover these in an upcoming post.
Feel free to comment or contact us directly if you have any questions.