I am often asked the question if my leg or knee joint hurts should I stretch it? Well that would actually depend on what the problem is. Usually with a joint, you want to strengthen the muscles not only surrounding it, but also those above and below the area. So with a knee joint you want to strengthen the gluteals (buttocks) and quadriceps (front of the thigh), hamstrings (back of the thigh), and calves. The problem with over-strengthening is that you can sacrifice flexibility. Think of a body builder: you may have seen them walking with bent elbows. This is a two-fold problem – 1. There is a muscle imbalance between the biceps and triceps causing the triceps to lengthen and weaken and the biceps to shorten and strengthen 2. Due to the imbalance, the flexibility at the elbow joint has been stiffened.
On the other hand, you don’t want to sacrifice strengthening for flexibility. A gymnast or dancer who can get there leg to 180 degrees no longer has the strength around the hips or low back to support it. They end up with hip impingements, wear and tear of cartilage, low back pain.
So you need to get to that happy medium. You need the flexibility in muscles and joints to quickly get to the tennis ball on the other side of the court without tearing the muscles, but you also need the strength to be able to jump into a jete (leap) and land from it in dance. The activities that spend so much time on stretching, like dance and gymnastics, need to spend equal time in working on strengthening. If you are too flexible, you set yourself up for instability in the joints which can translate to either joint pain or muscle tear as a final result. You need to find the root cause of the injury, which could be an alignment issue due to one side being more flexible than the other, pulling your skeletal system out of whack. Muscles attach to bones so the muscles then are imbalanced and you create a muscle injury. Rather than continuing to stretch the already flexible side, you need to strengthen it to support it. This in turn will actually help to stretch the opposite side.
Back to the question – should I stretch my knee if it hurts? It comes back to alignment and where the issue is stemming from. You strengthen the muscles surrounding the joint that is unstable and create a balance between strength and flexibility.
Did you know that Maryland has Direct Access for physical therapy? That means you can see a Physical Therapist without seeing your physician first and getting a prescription. We can evaluate and treat you without a referral. Through the extensive evaluation, if I feel that other issues may be involved that may require you to see your physician, I will refer you back or recommend someone who is appropriate for you.
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