Is stretching supposed to be painful?

Brian Yee
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
Stretching should at most be moderately uncomfortable. Many people think that stretching only targets the muscles, but consider that there the joints, ligaments, nerves, and fascia are also stretched. If you have a joint hypermobility or an irritated nerve, such as sciatica, over-stretching can actually injure the tissue and cause more problems than good.
Wendy Batts
No! Stretching positions should be held at a point of tension in the muscle, but not pain. Stretching to pain may cause the opposite desired effect. That is, the muscle may react by tensing up. We want to relax the muscle and add length to it while we stretch. Pain will get in the way of our stretching goals so it is best to avoid it by backing off the stretch a bit to a point of tension and maintaining that instead. The stretch will be just as effective, if not more so.

Stretching should not be painful. If you are experiencing pain during stretching, then you need to try to identify the cause. Severe pain in joints, ligaments, or tendons may indicate a serious injury and you may need to discontinue those stretches or exercises until you have completely recovered.

Dr. Mike Clark, DPT

Generally speaking, stretching should not be painful. However, there are certain types of stretching, such as foam rolling, that may cause temporary discomfort. When using the foam roller (a form of self massage), you may find adhesions or knots that can be quite tender and painful when pressure is applied to them. These knots are areas of the muscle that are overactive and in spasm which over time will decrease your flexibility. While it may not be the most pleasurable feeling in the world, foam rolling has been found to be one of the most effective ways to release these knots, resulting in improved flexibility and allowing you to get more from your exercise routine. To make the most of foam rolling, once you’ve found a tender/sore knot the best thing to do is hold pressure on it (without moving) for at least 30 seconds, which will help to release the spasm. Try to find 1-3 knots per body part you decide to foam roll, and do it daily, the more frequently you do it, the less intense it becomes.

While stretching is not the most comfortable activity in the world, it certainly should not be painful. When performing your stretches, stretch only to the point of mild discomfort or tightness. This point should always be slightly below your pain threshold. When you reach a point of tightness, hold this position and try to relax the muscle being stretched as much as possible. If you feel the tightness lessen, slowly move further into the stretch. Stretches should be held for approximately 30 seconds.

Stretching to a point of pain is not recommended as this could cause injury.

No, stretching for fitness or performance related goals should not be painful. Pain or discomfort during stretching can be prevented in the following ways:

  1. Ensure the surface you will be sitting or kneeling on is padded and comfortable.
  2. Slowly move into a stretch until the first sensation of tension (when you start to "feel" the stretch) in the muscle. Then, hold the stretch without moving for 30 seconds. Slowly move out of the stretch. If you feel sharp or throbbing pain during the stretch, stop the stretch and contact your primary care physician.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.