How (and Why) You Should be Stretching Your Feet and Ankles – MASSAGE Magazine

Source: How (and Why) You Should be Stretching Your Feet and Ankles – MASSAGE Magazine

stretching feet and ankles

With our foundation for stability and balance originating in our feet, keeping our feet and ankles mobile and stable is the first step in correcting imbalances further up the kinetic chain.

There are lots of different techniques for working with the feet and ankles — but without care, injury can occur during well-intentioned exercises.

What I want to share with you are safer ways to achieve the same or maybe better results if we pay attention to positioning, physiological laws, and what our bodies are telling us. This article addresses what I have found to be a safe and successful approach to creating both flexibility and stability in the feet, based on Aaron Mattes’ system of Active Isolated Stretching and Strengthening.

Good Exercise Gone Bad

When it comes to exercise, the main reason I see for failure is simply stress. The stress I am referring to is not associated with your job or everyday life, but rather the extra force you apply to your body by pushing though exercises even if they are uncomfortable or painful. Over and over again, I’ve seen good intentions for creating stronger and more supple bodies lead to the opposite result of more restriction, weaker muscles and pain.

The old adage “It hurts so good” can cause injury, which in turn creates an inflammatory and neurological response. On top of this, when torn tissues heal, scar tissue develops, which further restricts joint movement. Pushing and pulling too far can be counterproductive, especially during the initial stages of recovery from an injury or surgery when the nervous system is very sensitive and tissues fragile.

Pay Attention to Pain

Pain is an important signal that lets us know what we are doing is not safe. It is something to avoid, and it is imperative to pay attention to what you feel when you exercise. That is not to say that you should avoid certain movements if they have caused pain in the past, but rather to find ways to move in such a manner that allows you to avoid pain altogether.

It is essential to remember that when you feel pain, your nervous system sends a signal to the muscles to protect you from that perceived threat of injury. Spindle cells are one of the primary proprioceptive organs in soft tissues that elicit this protective mechanism (referred to as the myotatic, or “stretch,” reflex). When they sense stress or tension from a stretch that cannot be dealt with in a positive manner, the myotatic reflex activates muscle contraction to avoid injury — in this case to prevent the overstretching and resulting tear of a muscle and tendon.

Let’s take an example of experiencing pain upon turning your torso to one side. If you are faced with this sort of predicament, respect this warning sign and modify your movements accordingly.

In this case, rotate gently, with excellent control, to the point just before you feel pain and then return to the starting point. With each repetition nudge into the barrier, never eliciting pain. As your nerves become less sensitive, the pain will diminish and your natural ROM will begin to return. Following this simple idea will help get you moving again even if you have experienced or are experiencing pain.

How to Stretch with Active Isolated Stretching (AIS)

AI Stretching avoids triggering the myotatic stretch reflex by using gentle, active-assisted movements. Move into the stretch until the first sign of tension and release; it’s that simple. The rhythmic, relaxed repetitions increase blood and lymphatic flow and sedate the nerves. Use a strap or your hand to assist. Repeat the set several times on the tighter side.

Gastrocnemius and the Posterior Compartment

The conventional method for stretching the calves in a standing position is one example of an approach that creates the potential for injury. The tissues being stretched are also bearing weight. This can be a difficult challenge for compromised joints and tissues. Consider this especially if you have an injury.

To make the stretch as safe and effective as possible I recommend doing this stretch supine, with your leg in the air and using a strap to assist yourself. (See photos 1 and 2.)

Photo 1
Photo 1
Photo 2
Photo 2

Dorsal Stretches of the Ankle

These stretches are usually done while sitting with one leg crossed over the other and plantar flexing your foot while pushing on the dorsal side of the foot with one of your hands to assist. For the most part, these stretches are safe as long as you remember to be gentle enough not to cause pain. These stretches can be very helpful for strained or sprained ankles.

There is often a huge imbalance between the power and strength of the posterior vs. the anterior musculature, similar to the disparity between the flexors and extensors of the wrist. In most cases the anterior muscles such as the tibialis anterior need to be strengthened to achieve balance in your foot and ankle.

With that in mind, the hand you are using to assist the stretch can create resistance on the return phase of the movement, building strength. The resistance should be firm but gentle without impeding movement. This simple addition helps with stability and delivers increased blood and lymphatic flow, reducing inflammation.

Inversion and Eversion Stretches of the Ankle

Stretching the invertors and evertors of the ankle is usually straightforward. In most cases you are sitting with one leg crossed over the other, using your hands to assist. As long as you practice without causing pain you should experience a successful outcome.

To get the most out of this stretch try this: Before you invert or evert your ankle, use your hands to hold your ankle at a 90-degree angle. This modification directs the stretch deeper into the joint, gently tweezing scarred ligaments and joint capsules. Be careful when you modify your stretch in this manner; it can be quite intense. As with dorsal flexion you can create strength with each repetition by using the hand that is assisting the stretch to resist the returning movement.

–Read more at linked article

How Massage Heals Sore Muscles

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/06
/how-massage-heals-sore-muscles/?pagewan
ted=print

February 6, 2012

By NICHOLAS BAKALAR

A massage after vigorous exercise unquestionably feels good, and it seems to reduce pain and help muscles recover. Many people — both athletes and health professionals – have long contended it eases inflammation, improves blood flow and reduces muscle tightness. But until now no one has understood why massage has this apparently beneficial effect.

Now researchers have found what happens to muscles when a masseur goes to work on them.

Their experiment required having people exercise to exhaustion and undergo five incisions in their legs in order to obtain muscle tissue for analysis. Despite the hurdles, the scientists still managed to find 11 brave young male volunteers. The study was published in the Feb. 1 issue of Science Translational Medicine.

On a first visit, they biopsied one leg of each subject at rest. At a second session, they had them vigorously exercise on a stationary bicycle for more than an hour until they could go no further. Then they massaged one thigh of each subject for 10 minutes, leaving the other to recover on its own. Immediately after the massage, they biopsied the thigh muscle in each leg again. After allowing another two-and-a-half hours of rest, they did a third biopsy to track the process of muscle injury and repair.

Vigorous exercise causes tiny tears in muscle fibers, leading to an immune reaction — inflammation — as the body gets to work repairing the injured cells. So the researchers screened the tissue from the massaged and unmassaged legs to compare their repair processes, and find out what difference massage would make.

They found that massage reduced the production of compounds called cytokines, which play a critical role in inflammation. Massage also stimulated mitochondria, the tiny powerhouses inside cells that convert glucose into the energy essential for cell function and repair. “The bottom line is that there appears to be a suppression of pathways in inflammation and an increase in mitochondrial biogenesis,” helping the muscle adapt to the demands of increased exercise, said the senior author, Dr. Mark A. Tarnopolsky.

Dr. Tarnopolsky, a professor of pediatrics and medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, said that massage works quite differently from Nsaids and other anti-inflammatory drugs, which reduce inflammation and pain but may actually retard healing. Many people, for instance, pop an aspirin or Aleve at the first sign of muscle soreness. “There’s some theoretical concern that there is a maladaptive response in the long run if you’re constantly suppressing inflammation with drugs,” he said. “With massage, you can have your cake and eat it too—massage can suppress inflammation and actually enhance cell recovery.”

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Research Exclusive: Study Focuses on Massage Therapy Efficacy Beliefs

posted:9/27/2013
Author: Albert Moraska.
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 A recent study focused on the belief in the efficacy of massage for muscle recovery after running a race. After gathering and analyzing data from runners who had just completed a race, researchers found massage is well-accepted as an aid in muscle recovery, especially among females and people who have received massage in the past.

The study, “Massage Efficacy Beliefs for Muscle Recovery from a Running Race,” involved 745 people who completed the same 10-kilometer race. Study data was collected from subjects within one hour postrace. The mean subject age was about 37 years.

Participants were approached right after the race and asked whether they were interested in completing a short questionnaire. This survey asked each subject to record his or her gender, age, race finish time, time since he or she finished the race, number of professional massages received and number of hours slept the previous evening.

Participants were also asked to rate their perceived exertion, muscle soreness and fatigue on scales from zero to 10. For one of the study’s main outcome measures, subjects were asked, “Do you think massage would be beneficial for your muscle recovery from today’s race?” They could elect to answer yes, no or unsure. The “no” and “unsure” answers were grouped together for analysis.

The data showed female racers reported a younger age, longer race finish time and lower perceived exertion, muscle soreness and muscle fatigue than male racers. Participants who reported having had massage in the past were among the older racers. Subjects who believed massage would aid in muscle recovery were those who were older and reported greater perceived exertion, muscle fatigue and muscle soreness.

The numbers also showed 80 percent of the 745 runners surveyed believed massage would benefit muscle recovery following the race, even though only about 44 percent of the runners had received massage in the past.

~~continued at link above