stretching stretches to ease pain

8 Stretches to Help You Ease Every Kind of PainPhilip Friedman

Read an excerpt from Prevention’s new book Stretch Away Pain below, and buy the book here.

Movement can change lives. I see it every day.

When I was young, I didn’t understand pain. Each morning, I hit the ground running, moving easily through life. But at age 25, I injured my spine while dancing. My perspective on my body and my relationship with it changed overnight.

I learned to adapt and apply my fitness knowledge to my daily life and, later, to the lives of my clients; as a Pilates instructor for decades, I understand when clients ask, “What can I do to lessen my pain? How can I feel better?”

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Stretch Away Pain


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Pain robs us of the joy in life—but stretching gives us a return to life, freedom, and joyful experiences. It can help ease aches and prevent new pains. Daily stretching increases blood flow, which delivers more oxygen and nutrients to joints and muscles, and this helps improve flexibility, range of motion, and strength—all things that add up to less stiffness and pain. In short, stretching helps your body function at its best.

I don’t break down stretches into individual body parts, but rather into broader movements. The body is a network: Our muscles, bones, tendons, and fascia are all connected. Pain in one area can affect another body part, but this also means you get more bang for your buck when you stretch mindfully.

I also think it’s crucial to connect stretching with functional activities—how to properly reach for an item on a high shelf, for example. If a stretch doesn’t help you move with less pain in the real world, what good is it?

These sample moves, from my new Prevention book Stretch Away Pain, show you how to incorporate stretching into your daily life. Now, let’s move and heal!

Before you start this stretching routine

Keep these best practices in mind to get the most from your stretch session.

  • Breathe: Begin with a few minutes of deep breathing. This signals your body to relax and serves as a familiar point from which to start your routine.

  • Push, but not too hard: Stretching to the maximum can cause injury—but progress doesn’t occur if you’re using only minimum effort. Aim for a 70 on a scale of 1 to 100.

  • Listen to your body: “Normal” pain feels like tightness or stiffness as you begin a stretch. But sharp or burning pain is a warning that something is wrong—stop to avoid hurting yourself. Other warning signs that are telling you to pause include feeling dizzy, flushed, or exhausted.

Learn these key body terms, too, so you can perform each stretch properly:

  • Parallel legs: Stand or sit with your legs apart, knees in line with the centers of your hips and your heels, toes pointing forward, knees aligning with the second toes.

  • Shoulder height: When lifting one or both arms, arm(s) should be parallel to the ground.

  • Sit bones or sitting bones: These two bony points are located in the lower middle part of the buttocks and are what hurt when you sit on a hard chair.

  • Sit-bone-width apart: Stand with your heels and the center of the ball of your foot in line with your sit bones.

  • Stomach in and up (diaphragm): Without allowing your ribs to pop forward, pull your navel back toward your spine and feel your stomach muscles lift to support your back. Remember to breathe!

Stretches to do first thing in the morning

Do these three moves right from your bed.

Double Knee Hug

Helps with: Lower back and hip pain

  1. Lie on your bed with a pillow under your head, arms at your sides.

  2. Bend your knees; bring your right knee in toward your chest, then bring your left knee in toward your chest—your hands should be resting on your shins.

  3. Hug your thighs toward and against your chest by pulling on your shins with your hands. Open your elbows to the sides, then release your hands to allow your thighs to move off your torso.

  4. Repeat the hug-and-release move two times.

Make it part of your day: Hug your knees while putting on your socks or painting your toenails.

full body stretch with arm arcs bed stretches

Philip Friedman

Full-Body Stretch With Arm Arcs

Helps with: Body-wide stiffness

  1. Lie on your bed with a pillow under your head, arms at your sides.

  2. Inhale through your nose and reach your arms overhead, toward the top of the bed. Stretch your legs straight toward the bottom of the bed. Spread your fingers and toes as wide as possible.

  3. Push through your heels and press your palms away from your head. Don’t arch your lower back. Hold for a count of three.

Make it part of your day: Stretch your arms over your head while putting on a shirt or putting groceries away.

lying ankle circles bed stretches

Philip Friedman

Lying Ankle Circles

Helps with: Tight ankles, feet, and toes

  1. Lie on your bed with a pillow under your head, arms at your sides.

  2. Bend both knees, then bring one bent leg toward your chest to lift the foot. Keep your knee, hip, and foot in line with one another and rotate the ankle of the lifted foot in three slow circles to the right, as if tracing the edge of the circle with your pinkie toe. Move only the foot and ankle. Then do three slow circles to the left.

  3. Place your foot down and repeat on the other side.

Make it part of your day: Circle your ankles while sitting at the dinner table or watching the news.

Stretches you can do standing

Do these after brushing your teeth or taking a shower.

the roll down standing stretches

Philip Friedman

The Roll Down

Helps with: Lower back, upper back, and neck discomfort

  1. Stand with legs sit-bone-width apart and parallel, back straight and stomach tight.

  2. Bend your knees softly and place your hands on your thighs. Pull your stomach in. Inhale and lower your head.

  3. Exhale and gradually roll your spine down, hands sliding down your legs as the upper and lower back stretch. Pull your stomach in.

  4. Reverse the action and roll up. Repeat twice.

Make it part of your day: Do this the next time you’re shaving your legs.

Genie Twist

Helps with: Limbering up the shoulders, neck, and upper and lower back

  1. Stand with legs sit-bone-width apart and parallel, back straight and stomach tight.

  2. Bend your knees softly. Lift your arms to chest height, palms down. Fold your arms at shoulder height, fingertips to elbows.

  3. Without moving your pelvis or hips, twist to the right. Stay in the twist and turn your head to the left, chin toward your left shoulder, then twist and turn your head to the right, chin toward your right shoulder. Repeat the left and right head-turning twice.

  4. Untwist, returning to face to the center. Switch the top arm, then repeat all steps.

Make it part of your day: Do this when you’re cooking or vacuuming.

Stretches you can do sitting down

Complete these from your kitchen chair.

thigh and hip stretch seated stretches

Philip Friedman

Thigh and Hip Stretch

Helps with: Opening up the hips and stretching the thighs

  1. Sit upright with shoulders over your hips and legs a little more than sit-bone-width apart. Bend your knees at a 90-degree angle, with your knees over your heels. Point your feet forward.

  2. Slide over in the chair so your right sit bone is off the side of the chair. Position your shoulders over your hips.

  3. Pull your right foot straight back until your knee is under your hip; your heel will be lifted. Straighten your right leg and push your right heel back. Hold the stretch for three counts.

  4. Return to starting position and repeat stretch on the left side.

Make it part of your day: Lean into your hips for a quick stretch while pushing open a door.

foot towel stretch seated stretches

Philip Friedman

Foot Towel Stretch

Helps with: Painful or stiff arches, toes, or ankles

  1. Spread a towel on the floor. Sit upright with shoulders over your hips, legs about sit-bone-width apart, knees bent at 90 degrees, feet on the towel.

  2. With your right foot, lift and spread your toes, then lower them. Grasp the towel with your toes and pull toward your heel. Relax your right foot.

  3. Repeat with your left foot. Complete three times, alternating feet.

Make it part of your day: When walking up or down stairs, do this motion as you alternate feet on each step.

Extended Cat

Helps with: Tightness in the hips, lower and upper back, core, arms, shoulders, and neck

  1. Begin this stretch standing facing the chair, hands on the seat in front of you and in line with your shoulders. Keep elbows soft and pointed toward

  2. your ribs, and palms flat with fingers pointing forward. Your legs should be sit-bone-width apart and parallel.

  3. Walk your feet slowly and carefully backward, keeping a straight back as much as you can, without moving your hands. Your body should be in an inverted “L” position, shoulders in line with your wrists, arms straight, and elbows soft. Point fingers and toes forward, legs sit-bone-width apart.

  4. Inhale and round your spine like a scared cat. Bring your gaze to your navel.

  5. Exhale and, with your stomach pulled in to protect your spine, lift your chest and gently arch your back into the cow position. Repeat the cat and cow three times.

  6. End in the cat position.

Make it part of your day: Mimic this stretch when you make the bed.

Get the full Stretch Away Pain experience and buy the book here.

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