Juliette Kando is a dancer, choreologist, author on fitness and health, and Fellow of the Benesh Institute at the Royal Academy of Dance.
Becoming more flexible can help relieve aches and pains related to tension and stiffness in the body. Pain is useful and necessary to alert the sufferer that something is amiss. It helps find the cause of a painful condition. In this article, we explain how to identify the root causes of aches and pains. Then we apply targeted, almost passive stretching exercises to relieve tension and allow the affected areas to move freely again into their rightful place for future pain prevention.
Where Does the Pain Come From?
The most common cause of chronic aches and pains, like neck pain, headaches and migraine, frozen shoulders, bad backs, knees, and hip pain, comes from stiffness or spasm in muscle tissue from holding the body in disadvantageous positions for too long. Sitting still for hours on end, or even sleeping in the wrong position creates stiffness and reduces mobility, thereby creating a vicious circle of not wanting to move much because it hurts.
How to Relieve Pain?
The easiest and most successful way to break the stiffness—not wanting to move—and pain cycle, is to gently, almost passively, increase the movement range in the affected joints to make them more flexible.
For example, chronic pain felt in the upper back, neck, and shoulders is nothing more than muscle spasm (cramp) caused by holding the head in a miss-aligned, unbalanced position, too far in front of the body. Once the cervical and thoracic vertebrae (neck and upper-spine bones) are trained back into their correctly aligned place, many muscles that were straining to hold the head can relax, and the pain subsides.
Changing Your Mindset
They say that aches and pains come with aging, but aging is not the real cause of aches and pains. The idea of "Oh, I can't do that at my age!" is a self-imposed cliché that diminishes the desire to be physically active. Yes, if you stop stretching, you become a prematurely old person moaning about aches and pains. Healthy, active elderly people always say that they don't feel their age. "What? Am I 65 today? I feel just the same as when I was twenty!" is something I often hear from my elderly clients at the dance studio. So the first thing to do if you want to get rid of aches and pains is to listen to your body and change your mindset. Secondly, get off the chairs. Watch the next video and find out how harmful sitting on chairs all day really can be.
Are You Chair Shaped?
Sitting on chairs all day is detrimental to health. Getting off the chairs onto the floor allows the body to find its natural movement capabilities.
Flexibility Comes First
Without flexibility, there is no hope of a painless future as we grow older. For example, people with stiff knees cannot squat down or climb stairs properly. Those with stiff necks often suffer chronic headaches and migraines. Others with poor posture get a stiff back and suffer lower back pain and sciatica. Staying immobile makes you stiff and hurts your joints when you do try to move. So how can the cycle be broken?
The Pleasure Felt in Stretching
Once you allow your body to feel the pleasure of letting go of unnecessary tension and allow your bones to gently ease themselves into their nature-given place, you are winning the battle against stiffness and pain. In the next video, simply relax on the floor and breathe deeply to enjoy a gradual loosening of the knots in the neck, shoulders, and spine on each out-breath.
What Is the Secret of Flexibility?
Flexibility is not some unattainable concept that only dancers, gymnasts, or contortionists are good at. When a leg is straight, that's it—the knee locks, and it will go no further. When a leg is fully bent, again, it can only go as far as the end of its natural range in the knee joint, which is when the heel touches the buttocks, as in a full squat or a heel-sit. So in many areas of the body, flexibility is finite and pre-determined by the skeleton to allow us to move and act in the most efficient way. The secret of stretching is to NOT do anything at all except to relax and breathe deeply in a particular position favorable to the desired stretch. For example, what is the full mobility of the knee joint?
Try the above positions before answering the question
Flexibility for Safety
Without full articulation of say, the knee joint, a sudden fall might seriously injure you, whereas the same fall caught by a supple person does no harm at all. How come? A stiff knee with shortened muscles, tendons, and ligaments will SNAP from an abrupt total folding of the lower leg suddenly caused by a fall.
Injuries and pain caused by stiffness do not even require a sudden fall. A lack of movement and flexibility puts stress on too few overworked muscles while leaving other muscles dormant to the point of atrophy (unusable), hence the unnecessary painful "shrinking" of many aging bodies. But in reality, people do not shrink with age. They merely fold up like an accordion.
When Should You Stretch?
Stretch a little every day when you wake up, or in or after a bath, or shower, when your body is warm. You can also stretch at any time during the day when you feel stiff and tired, given the opportunity. Standing in an airport queue, I suddenly felt the urge to stretch up the arm that had been pulling on my suitcase for several hours. Everybody in the queue looked up, wondering what I was pointing at!
How Many Reps?
A stretch only has to be done once or twice until the extremity of a full movement range in a joint has been reached. Too much stretching can cause problems: the muscles get hurt and retract further back than where they started. A little stretching every day will get you a lot further than violently stretching once a week.
For How Long?
You may remain in the relaxed stretched positions for a few counts or a few minutes, depending on how you feel. Just remember: when the body is placed in a new position, it will always make itself felt. Relax down into the stretch, breathing out the pain at every slow out-breath. When the pain has gone, gently roll out of the position, and slowly rebuild your body with the new, painless sensation clocked in. You are now engaging new muscles to hold you better. It is important to physically memorize the improved position throughout the day if you can, so the same stretch, perhaps tomorrow, will take you further.
People who never stretch perceive a stretch as a pain; a cracking in the joints as arthritis. A cracking joint is the sound of the end of bones moving against each other when they have, for a time, not been moving much. With a few slow repetitions of the movement, accompanied with breathing, the cracking noises diminish and go away completely. It is nothing to worry about as long as it does not hurt. Consider cracking noises in your body as the squeaking hinges of a rusty door. When the hinges get oiled, the door opens and closes silently. Ditto with joints. When they are lubricated with increased blood flow, they soon stop cracking.
Respect Your Body
If we, ungrateful sods, do not take the trouble to use a joint to its full capacity, the joint reacts: "OK, suit yourself!" the joint says. "I'll close up a bit and grow some more cartilage and bone spurs where you don't want me, just to hold myself together if you don’t mind.”
Cartilage and Bone Spurs
Cartilage is a very firm, rubbery tissue that cushions, protects, and supports bones at their joints. You grow extra cartilage in two circumstances:
- When you fail to use a joint to its full range, cartilage fills up the unused gap. In the knees, the neck, spine, etc., sometimes ossification occurs when additional bone tissue (bone spurs) grows, causing vertebrae to fuse together through sheer lack of movement.
- When joints are over-worked, carry too much weight by tired, weak muscles, as in so many old people's hands.
Yes, you guessed correctly: both extremes, a lack of use and over-use, end up giving you pain. The key is to respect your body's capabilities while learning to gently stretch the affected joints.
Gravity Inversion: The Ultimate Stretch
As shown in the next video, one of the most pleasant ways to relax and stretch the entire body is using a Gravity Inversion Table. A gravity inversion table helps to loosen and realign all your joints with gentle anti-gravity traction. Initially designed to get rid of a stiff back or stiff neck by simply relaxing in an inverted position, a gravity inversion table does much more. It stretches out the entire body, gently pulling on every joint attachment (ligaments & tendons) and its connected muscle tissue. When you finish, after a few minutes, you will have grown slightly taller, feel elevated, lighter, both in mood and sensation.
Regular use of a gravity inversion table is sure to guarantee greater comfort in the body, the gateway to getting rid of all your aches and pains.
Never Give Up Stretching and Moving
Saying "I can't do that, I am too old." is giving up. It's like a self-imposed death sentence to your flexibility, your ability to move well and painlessly throughout your life at any age. Admittedly, there comes a time when we perhaps no longer can run a marathon or perform hardcore aerobic exercises, but gentle, almost passive yoga stretches can be performed throughout one's lifetime to maintain full mobility in the joints, postural balance, and to alleviate aches and pains.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Juliette Kando FI Chor (author) from Andalusia on January 16, 2020:
People with lupus get the most and longest-lasting benefits from low-impact exercises such as swimming, walking, yoga, or stretching.Too much exercise could trigger a lupus flare-up so be mindful and respect your feelings. Gentle, passive stretching should, if not cure the condition, certainly make you more mobile and more comfortable.
Juliette Kando FI Chor (author) from Andalusia on January 22, 2019:
I agree with you Bin XI' and would like to clarify:
As I mention in the closing paragraph, "You have the power to prevent and cure pain by keeping your joints flexible, mobile and strong."
A good deal of mobility is shown in the high kicks shown in the video "Are You Chair Shaped?"
Without strength and mobility neither the use of the Yoga Swing nor the exercises shown in the Gravity Inversion video would be possible.
The point I am making in this article is that any fitness régime or any approach to curing chronic aches and pains must start with aiming for flexibility as a priority to develop correct alignment, then strength for a fully mobile (well functioning) and painless body.
Bing Xi from Singapore on December 07, 2018:
A very good re-cap for me on what I learnt from "The 7-Day Back Pain Cure" by Jesse Cannone. Personally, yet to try out the inversion therapy due to spaces limitations. However, most advice here allow users to be self-independent, which in my opinion, is much better than visiting the chiropractor or massage therapist. If there is a need to visit a professional on it, I would suggest see a physical therapist, fitness instructor or someone in related field to do some strengthening works through movements. Of course, it also depends on the route cause of the pain & poor posture. If the source of pain is due to some illness or inflammation, then treatment is the main priority. Such sources of pain should be rid of by avoiding food or the respective environment that aggravates it. Appropriate supplementation can also be helpful to allow the body to heal naturally.
However, I see the importance of pointing out the difference between flexibility and mobility. I believe a more appropriate word would be mobility. As a fitness instructor, I find that people who tend to lose control of their body movements & get cramps/pains easily are those who are flexible yet not mobile. Mobility is strength accompanied by flexibility.
Ruby from United States on April 11, 2016:
If I have lupus which is an auto immune disease and my body gets inflamed because of an immune response that would normally protect someone in a system that is functioning right, then how would a stretch get rid of my pain forever?
If it is chronic pain that comes with flares from a disease I don't see how a stretch would "cure" it.
I can defiantly see it helping though.
Madamxtra from Milky Way Galaxy on January 19, 2016:
Sue, you've laid it out.
I told my son to stretch, first thing in the morning...
Stretching can't be a bad thing, animals do it upon waking.
Mary Wickison from Brazil on January 19, 2016:
This has really hit home with me. I have been sitting a lot recently and I get stiff. I try and break up the day by going outside and working on our farm. My mother suffered from a bad back as a result of sitting too much and I don't want to fall into the same path.
I am going to start stretching more and I will also be bookmarking this to refer back to.
Juliette Kando FI Chor (author) from Andalusia on February 03, 2014:
Glad to be of some use Lucy. There is always a reason for pain. Mostly it is to do with stress, and an over-curvature of the spine. Try figure out what caused the pain. Sleeping on a thin mattress on the floor always helps. Inverting gravity on a gravity inversion table works wonders too.
Bonny OBrien from Troy, N.Y. on February 03, 2014:
Wow I could not have read this at a better time. My back has been bothering me for no reason this past week.
Tranquilheart from Canada on October 05, 2013:
Thanks for this, many of us can relate to aches & pains
Juliette Kando FI Chor (author) from Andalusia on August 07, 2013:
How right you are DDE. Thanks for reading.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on August 07, 2013:
I really learned lots about flexibility in this hub so true great hub for those who feel age gets in the way and for anyone else who feels they can't do it any more I on the other hand don't think of age only of how I feel
Elisha Jachetti on April 21, 2013:
This is a great hub and so true! I am a personal trainer and I cannot preach the benefits of stretching enough! Spot on.
Juliette Kando FI Chor (author) from Andalusia on April 21, 2013:
Thank you for dropping by Curiad. Glad you liked it and maybe will implement the information for your own well being.
Curiad on April 22, 2012:
This is a cute Video and great well written information. Thank you for sharing this for everyone!