When is “inflexibility” a fascial restriction or mobility issue, and when is it true inflexibility?
That’s the topic of Part 3, the last in this series.
Fascial restriction can APPEAR to impact flexibility, and this is a really important distinction to understand because if we try to target what seems inflexible rather than going after the cause of immobility, we could injure ourselves or make things a lot worse.
I will not be covering every possible example of this or we’d be here all day, but I do want to give you the ones I see the most in my private practice.
Got tight hamstrings? Are you SURE?
If you’re in a fascial restriction pattern that is endangering your spine, your brain will step in to PROTECT you by limiting your range of motion.
In the case of low back pain patterns it is my opinion that the brain recruits the GLUTES and hamstrings to tighten up neurologically to keep you from injuring your spine.
The real CAUSE of distress in the low back is going to be somewhere in the quads and quad hip flexors, the IT Bands or adductors.
Most often it is actually the glutes that are the “tightest” (neurologically speaking, NOT from overuse) and if the glutes are in lock down there’s no way you’re going to be able to reach down and touch your toes. (Your body is PROTECTING you). But the problem is NOT hamstring inflexibility. I see a LOT of people attempting to stretch their hamstrings in an attempt to relieve low back pain and posterior chain tightness and I always cringe!
And…some people just have inflexible hamstrings, plain and simple.
The key to mastering your mobility is to learn how to know the difference.
- An upper body example might be overused pecs or subscaps leading to fascial restrictions in those muscle groups, which can cause the shoulders to appear to be inflexible. Release the fascia and suddenly flexibility, or more accurately – MOBILITY, is restored.
- Calf fascia restricting ankle “flexibility.” This is also a MOBILITY issue, not a flexibility issue.
- Scar tissue anywhere in the body will often appear to affect “flexibility” when it has nothing to do with muscle fibers, it’s all about the fascia.
- Knee joint flexibility can be seriously impacted by hips that are restricted due to a back pain pattern.
- Not being able to put an arm behind your back due to fascial restrictions in the anterior arm, deltoid and pecs.
- These are, of course, just a few examples but certainly the most common ones I see in my practice.
I believe it’s always best to rule out a fascial restriction or pain pattern issue BEFORE attempting any kind of flexibility training.
If you’re still confused about how to tell the difference, go back to Part II. Click here for that post.
Once you’ve used fascial release to address any mobility issues and learned your possible pain patterns and you STILL feel inflexible and/or simply want to increase your bendyness…then by all means, stretch away! AND, please do so in a safe and healthy way. For me that means NO or limited static stretching. Use dynamic warm-ups and PNF stretching instead. I have blog posts and videos coming out on those in the next few weeks so stay tuned, or use google.
When increasing flexibility is a good idea for injury prevention:
I can use myself for an example of this, with my overused overtight quads. My quads developed rapidly as a child gymnast and since then they always want to work overtime. They’ve inhibited my hamstrings big time, to the point where nearly all acute hamstring contractions cause my hamstrings to want to cramp.
The PROBLEM is NOT in my hamstrings however (they are INCREDIBLY flexible!) The problem is in my QUADS, which are by comparison NOT as flexible and are inhibiting the hamstrings due to reciprocal inhibition.
There is some fascial restriction overlap here too, because the grapefruit sized lumps of tight fascia in my quads (if I’m not diligent about self care) CAN contribute to the hamstring cramping. So priority #1 would be to eliminate or greatly reduce those fascial adhesions (which I’m doing).
Then, I could try using PNF stretching to lengthen those quad and quad hip flexor muscle fibers, which will allow me a greater range of motion when contracting my hamstrings.
Obviously, if you’re a gymnast, dancer, cirque de solei professional or someone who relies on extreme flexibility during movement on a daily basis, then being super flexible is a necessity. For the rest of us however, it is not. So I don’t advoccate “flexibility routines” and I NEVER recommend static stretching.
The opposite could be true for some of you rare birds that actually have very inflexible hamstrings: if you’re working out in a way that requires you to use knee extension and/or hip flexion (such as kicking a soccer ball or doing leg extensions on a gym machine), your hamstrings are required to lengthen for that quad to contract, and it may not want to.
These are just two examples of what’s possible throughout the body where opposite muscles inhibit one another.