Why Is It Painful When You Stretch?

There's nothing quite like a nice long stretch after a hard workout or a long day. In fact, some people dedicate increments of time each day to simply engage in mindful stretching or yoga. Stretching can be a relaxing and invigorating experience. After all, it is an activity that helps aid your joints and muscles in reaching and maintaining their full range of motion (via Mayo Clinic). For many individuals, stretching provides an endorphin release, inducing the "feel good" hormones, and improving overall mood, according to Healthline.

In addition to being a pleasurable experience, stretching can also be a great means of living a healthy lifestyle. Some added benefits of stretching include increasing flexibility, boosting circulation, and improving physical performance and posture. It's also a great method for reducing or releasing stress that manifests as physical tension in the body. While stretching is often a positive experience, there are some times when stretching can be painful. However, according to Livestrong, if you're experiencing pain during a stretch, there's most likely an underlying reason.

Why does stretching hurt?

If you've ever participated in a workout class online, in-person, or followed a DVD, you've probably been through a warm-up and cool-down stretching period. These techniques allow the muscles and joints to be prepared for the activities with a reduced risk of damage or injury during the workout, according to California Rehabilitation Sports Performance. While proper stretching can be mildly uncomfortable, you shouldn't be feeling pain from your stretches. If your stretching is painful, there are a few possible reasons that could be the cause.

First, you could be hyperextending your joints or muscles, according to Healthline. Hyperextension is an extension beyond a normal healthy range of movement or motion. One example of hyperextension can occur during side lunge poses. You may be overextending your neck, which can cause tension in your neck and lower back, especially if you like glancing at yourself in the mirror to watch your pose (via Livestrong). Keep in mind, hyperextension can result in sprains, strain, and even muscle tears in the most severe cases (via Healthline).

Proper stretching tips

While there's no guarantee that deep muscle stretches won't cause some mild discomfort, there are a few things that can help to reduce the risk of experiencing pain when engaging in stretching exercises. For starters, be sure you are engaging in active or dynamic stretching (via Healthline). Active stretching is a form of stretching where the intended muscles are engaged during the stretching motion, such as during quad, chest, or tricep stretches. 

Dynamic stretching is another type of stretching, where you're warming up a certain set of muscles that are intended to be used for that specific workout or activity. Some examples include leg swings if you're getting ready to run, or shoulder circles for someone getting ready to swim. For most stretching methods, you can feel when the muscles are beginning to overextend. Therefore, it's best to pay attention to the limitations of your body to know where to stop the extension or movement before pain occurs.