I was catching up on some reading the other day and came across this question posted in the LA Times Fitness section:
"I'm 46 years old, [male] and in good shape. I jog on a treadmill three times a week for 3 miles and lift weights. But I'm always sore and stiff. Lately I've experienced lower back pain and cannot get up to a full sprint on the basketball court because of hip and groin discomfort. What stretching exercises do you recommend?"
The question you should ask first is why? Why do I feel stiff and sore? Why does my back hurt? It's tempting to assume that the feelings of stiffness and soreness are from tight muscles and what you need is some type of stretching routine. I've fallen victim to the symptom siren. It's easy to do.
The first signal that I had of lower back trouble was stiffness; tightness. I didn't hurt, I was stiff. This was nearly twenty years ago and I missed the message. I was standing on the sidelines of the Hills Fitness Center's basketball court waiting to get in a game. My back started feeling very tight and my hamstrings felt sort of stiff. So, I did what most people would do: stretched. And, stretched, and stretched, and stretched. I bought a special stretching strap that attached to the door and one that wrapped around your feet. I stretched in the morning, before I played basketball, and after I played. But, no matter how much I stretched, my back and legs felt tight especially playing basketball or when I jogged. Sitting was very difficult but at the time I ignored that little buggar as well. By the time I was 40, I had significant back pain, leg pain, and slept fitfully, three to four hours, each night. At the age of 47, I felt like I was 80. I finally decided to do something about it (and, if you're wondering why it took me so long to do something about it, you can read more here).
The first signs of a joint in trouble are stiffness and tightness. Trudging along behind is soreness. When the three of them get together and take a seat at the table of your life, your joint, whether it's your knee, hip, back, or neck, needs help; much more than a simple stretch.
To complicate matters, just because you feel pain in the hip and groin does not mean that the problem is in the hip and groin. Symptoms can stem from the back, specifically the fourth lumbar segment. Conditions such as degenerative joint disease, or disc disease can cause pain in the groin or hip and this pain may get worse with activities such as jogging, walking, or weight lifting. Within the hip region, degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis), labral tear, bursitis, stress fracture, tendonosis are conditions that can create hip and groin symptoms. This is why stretching when you feel the symptoms of tightness, stiffness, and soreness is rarely effective by itself. You're treating the symptom. It's like replacing a cracked doorframe when the cause of the crack is the uneven foundation of your house. A stress fracture requires a different solution than tendonosis but both conditions could make you feel stiff, tight, and sore.
Remember this: when something feels tight, something's not right. It doesn't mean the first thing you should do is stretch. It means you need to find out why you feel tight; then, what to do about it.
Ciao for now,
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