After 12 years in the game you start to see patterns. Lots of them. Certain muscles get consistently tight on the majority of us. Maybe it’s from being sat down for too long. Maybe it’s down to dodgy posture and being lazy. Maybe it’s being worn down by the machine that is modern life. Whatever it is I find myself giving similar exercises to the vast majority of my clients. Is this because I’m lazy. I hope not! More to do with the fact that certain muscles and postures are at the heart of all kinds of different conditions. So we have The 7 Best Physio Exercises from your caring sharing wannabe physiotherapist.
Many people have asked me why give such useful information away on your website? Why am I so generous with the so called physiotherapy ‘secrets?’ Firstly I want as many people to benefit as possible from my experience. Why take it with you? Secondly what we do with our treatment simply cuts out the need for these exercises. We do all the work for you. We tend to use these exercises to maintain the work we’ve done once we’ve identified the most important approach for each individual. The following exercises therefore make a great preventative stretching programme. If you have any specific problems please give us a call to discuss.
Why Physio Stretches Rather Than Strengthening?
These aren’t so much as exercises, more stretches. We find that if we give you exercises to strengthen muscles that are weak without first treating the reason why they are weak you are wasting your time. You have to earn the right to do the exercises. You also have to question if you’re pain free at that point do you need to bother?
This approach is based on clinical experience in terms of what we find most effective. To find research to back this up is somewhat tricky. In fact there is very little conclusive physiotherapy research on the effect of stretching full stop. The one piece of research I can find is here. It actually is in favour of the exact opposite of the point I just made! Suggesting that stretching in isolation is not as good as stretching and with an exercise programme.
However, this only speaks of specifically stretch the muscle in question. In this case the hamstring. What I’m talking about is finding the tight muscles elsewhere in the body which is causing the tightness and stretching that. Cause not effect. Should you still stretch the tight muscle. Perhaps not. Due a protective mechanism called the stretch reflex which means a muscle will recoil if the brain feels the muscles is in danger of snapping, it may even have the opposite effect.
For those who’ve not had our treatment this might sound a bit hard to believe but we can actually prove this in a scientific manner during our treatment sessions. You simply test the tension in the hamstring (in this case) length before and after each part of treatment to determine which is the most important part of body holding tension in the hamstring.
How Long To Stretch? What’s The Physio Research?
Again there is little consensus in the research on this one. I like to suggest holding a gentle stretch for 30 seconds. I insist on gentle stretching to avoid the stretch reflex response discussed above. Once held for 30 seconds you should then be able to push into the stretch a little further quite comfortably and hold for an additional 30 seconds.
The hypothesised reason for this is to allow the brain time to accept the new length of the muscle rather than immediately spring back to the same position as originally. Another nice piece of research here suggests “one static stretch of 15 to 30 seconds per day is sufficient for most patients, but some require longer duration.” It then goes on to say “An individual approach maybe most effective based on healthy and injured tissues.”
I couldn’t agree more with this second statement. An individual approach is the key. Just because it works for one person doesn’t mean it’s going to work for another. Do what works best for you. Enough talk, drum roll please… here they are:
The 7 Best Physio Exercises
1. Lumbar Extension
Great for unwinding after a tough day at work. Great for people who get a bit lazy whilst they’re slumped in a chair all day long. Great for avoiding low back pain and also good for treating low grade back pain or an achy back. Anyone in severe pain this one isn’t for you. You should be booking in with us or your doctor and not reading this!
The picture shown is the harder form of the exercise. For those that don’t have a treatment couch at home a Swiss Ball is ideal to extend over. For those that don’t have either or those how aren’t the most mobile than laying on you back with your feet over your bed with the arms overhead will suffice. This should feel very nice and relaxing. If this movement gives you pain don’t do the exercise and seek professional advice.
2. Half Moon
If you struggled with the one above this should be a safer and more enjoyable option for you. Great for all the same things listed above. Can also help, believe it or not, with neck and shoulder problems. Not to mention long standing knee issues. The reasons behind this are the beyond the scope of this blog, just trust me for now and see if it works!
Possibly the most straight forward stretch on the list and the name gives it all away. Simply make like a Half Moon. Stand with your fit together, arms above your head and bend at the waist to make the Half Moon shape. Try not to hold your breath and relax into the stretch. As always if it’s painful you know where we are!
3. Lat Stretch
Great for shoulder problems quite obviously. But less obvious can help neck issues due to its affect on the position of the scapula. Slightly more obtusely very useful low back problems and knee problems as mentioned above. The lats are continuous with the obliques so this and the previous stretch go hand in hand, or shoulder in pelvis if you will.
I could find a good door or post for this stretch so I’ve just shown it against a wall here. But the stretch is better performed ‘hanging off’ a door or post to further increase the stretch. Start with the arm outstretched holding onto a door frame just above the level of your shoulder. Push your back side out behind you and you should start to feel a stretch down the side of rib cage, towards your shoulder or towards the crest of your hips. From here rotate your torso inwards (we use the ‘sniff the armpit’ mnemonic to remember which way to rotate) to increase this stretch.
4. Pec Stretch
Great for swimmers and office workers in equal measure. Basically anyone who has the tendency to get that rounded shoulder look. Effectively most people in modern life. Oh and people who use the gym who’ve been concentrating too much on the mirror muscles. Great for rotator cuff problems and neck tightness though care needs to be taken to ensure the stretch is hitting the right muscle and not irritating the pain.
Approach a wall of your choosing in what we like to call the half surrender position. Get in real tight to the wall so you could almost kiss it. From here shuffle your feet outwards and rotate your torso away from the side you are stretching as shown in the picture.
5. Glute Stretch
Obviously good for hip problems. Particularly those located on the outside of the hip. Can also ease hamstring and calf tension due to the affect on the sciatic nerve. A common pose in yoga called something unpronounceable to anyone not Indian. I think the Westernised term for this is Triangle.
Sit on the floor with the glute you are not stretching straight out in front of you. Take the leg of the glute you are stretching and place it on the other side of the leg that is outstretched. Place the foot as far up your other leg as possible before placing it on the floor. With your arms hug your knee into your opposite shoulder. All but the most flexible should start to feel the stretch at this point. To increase the stretch rotate your torso to the same side as the glute your are stretching.
6. Neck Flexion Stretch
Obviously great for stiff necks but can also help lower back problems and issues with hamstring and calves. Looks remarkably like this was taken just after someone scored against my beloved Liverpool!
Firstly tip your chin down to your chest. If you get a stretch around the back already that’s far enough for you today! If you get any symptoms or peculiar feelings down the arms on this one you should get that checked out and leave this stretch for another time. For those still with me and looking to increase the stretch lightly pull down on the top of the head to increase the stretch along the back of the neck.
7. Levator Scapulae / Upper Trapezius Stretch
A great stretch for those stressed out shoulders. Anyone who has a tendency to lift their shoulder in response to stress this one is for you.
Take the hand of the side you are wanting to stretch behind your back. With your other hand gently pull you head in the other direction as shown in the picture. A very nice variation which may hit the spot better is to pull the head diagonally away to the side. This will hit a slightly different muscle. One of them will most likely ‘hit the spot’ better than the other one.
What No Physio Core Exercises?
The more observant amongst you may have noticed a complete lack of core exercise. That is due to my belief that the whole core thing had been massively over done by the Physiotherapy and Fitness industries. I discuss this more detail in a previous post: Core Exercise: Is There Any Point?
Now I have mellowed a little bit since I wrote this article and I will concede there are times when some core exercise is valid. So for all your core junkies I’ll roll the clock back and give you favourite core exercise. No it’s not the plank! It’s far more civilised and sophisticated than that with hopefully less room for harmful compensatory muscles to kick in.
Simply lie on you back on the floor. Engage your core muscles to take the arch out of your low back to it is almost on contact with the floor. (Those with a curvy low back do your best!) Maintain the contraction whilst you life your leg 6 inches to a foot off the ground. You can do this as a hold and release for 30 seconds or as a repetition exercise. If you get pain or feel strange muscles doing the work instead of your core it’s not for you! Come see us and we’ll work out where those compensations come from.
Best Physio Exercises Summary
So there you have it. As I mentioned these are best suited as a prevention programme rather than a cure all. Those of you with irritating niggles may get some benefit out of these. Those of you in a reasonable amount of pain are much better off getting is professionally assessed. We’d love that to be us – contact details top right. But if it someone also, that’s fine too – but please do take action. It makes our job so much easier and your life so much less painful!