Stretching vs Massage: When, Where, How, and Why

Self-Treatment Approach

Anyone who’s experienced pain will definitely feel some degree of stiffness or tightness associated with that pain. The reasonable conclusion most of us come to is, ‘If that tissue wasn’t so tight I wouldn’t hurt so much!’

Well, you’re right.  This is because when a tissue is constantly tight, the muscle doesn’t get replenished with adequate fresh blood.  This environment of poor perfusion will create sensitive nerves around the area, which is why you feel discomfort.  Relieving that tension and restoring better blood flow will definitely make you feel better. 

For restoring blood flow, stretching often isn’t the answer.  Soft tissue work will do much better.  Putting pressure on a specific site on the muscle with a tennis ball, foam roller, or your own hands is kind of like squeezing a dirty sponge under running water.  Squeezing the sponge will expel lots of filth, and when pressure is released, fresh water (fresh blood) will rush into the sponge cleaning it and, in the context of muscle, create a healthier environment. When doing soft tissue work on yourself, practice the press, hold, release technique.  Apply pressure to tight/tender areas, hold that pressure (no more than 60 seconds), then release and move on to the next area.

But what about stretching?

First, think about a weight being suspended by a rubber band.  There is going to be tension in that band, but we wouldn’t think about stretching that rubber band more to relieve the tension would we?  Of course not.  The band is doing its job to support the weight and lengthening it will only bring it closer to rupturing.

How about adding another rubber band for support?  This will automatically take tension off the band and the weight will have twice the support. This is most often what is needed in the body, more support.

Here are common areas people should be supporting, rather than stretching to relieve tension:

-          Calf

-          Hamstrings

-          Low Back

-          Upper traps/neck

Doing soft tissue work on these areas will restore better blood flow, and if you feel like you must stretch, do so only after soft tissue work is done.  But here is the most important key to this article: Always activate your support mechanisms after releasing these tissues.

Here are some common support mechanisms you need to “turn on” after soft tissue work:

-          Intrinsic foot muscles via short foot drills. (Think about balancing while trying to keep foot/ankle as tight as possible without gripping the ground with the toes).

-          Glute bridges or banded walks to wake up the butt.

-          Restore proper breathing patterns and work on core isometrics (Stu McGill’s “Big 3” is often my go to)

-          Neck planks for deep neck flexor strength

               *** Be looking on Facebook and Youtube for instructional videos describing these drills

So the moral of the story, stretching alone will almost never relieve tension.  For lasting relief, follow this sequence on a daily basis:

1)      Soft Tissue Work (5-10 min)

2)      Light Stretching (2-5 min)

3)      Activation (5-10 min)

A daily practice like this will eventually relieve much of the tension you feel on a daily basis. It may take a week, a month, or a year.  Depending on past injuries, hobbies, daily activities, and a host of other factors, people will realize results at a different rate, but the creation of a consistent body maintenance practice will put you one step closer to being more resilient and pain free!

Don't Just Mend.  Transcend.


For more information on Chiropractic treatment, education on Body Maintenance techniques, or online coaching for sustainable exercise programs visit or call the office 931-321-1414 to schedule your FREE consultation with Dr. Dunaway