Can Stretching Help with Pain Management?

There are better ways than stretching to manage pain from muscle soreness

Evidence suggests that stretching offers little or no relief for muscle pain. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reviewed 12 studies, concluding that stretching, whether conducted before, after, or before and after exercise, does not produce clinically important reductions in delayed-onset muscle soreness in healthy adults. Another study by USA Track & Field concluded that stretching offers no protection from injury to runners during routine training, either.

What are you feeling if stretching doesn’t help with pain relief?

What is really happening is that you’re trading one type of pain for another. Pain is the body’s way of warning us about engaging in further activities that could cause more harm.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that if you feel muscle soreness, you should rest those muscles. But the concept of stretching and its substitution of one sensation for another is at the foundation of a more beneficial approach to pain relief.

Counterirritants rather than stretching to relieve muscle soreness

The most common type of muscle soreness we experience after a workout is known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). NIH says this pain is caused by a combination of things, including lactic acid, connective tissue or muscle damage, and inflammation.

The affected muscle and surrounding tissue report the sensation of pain to our brain – but not directly. We receive those messages after they are admitted through neurological gates on our spinal cord. Amazingly, pain cannot be registered by the brain if it’s not admitted through these gates. What’s even more amazing is that these gates can be distracted by other similar sensations.

In the case of stretching to relieve pain from muscle soreness, you’re likely just replacing the existing sensation from the damaged muscle and tissue with new sensations of pain produced by further irritating the injury. And remember that the ACSM recommends resting those muscles.

Applying a topical pain reliever with counterirritants such as camphor or menthol takes advantage of those pain gates. Instead of stretching and causing potential further harm, the topical pain reliever uses the sensation from the counterirritants send a cooling or warming sensation that overrides the pain sensation.

So, is stretching a bad idea?

Absolutely not. Regular stretching helps with flexibility. It’s important to be able to move a joint through the full range of motion. After reviewing different types of stretching undertaken by people ranging from professional athletes to senior citizens, the NIH concluded that both dynamic and static stretching have important overall health benefits.

  • Dynamic stretch. A dynamic stretch is an active movement that does not hold the end position. These types of stretches are generally done before physical exercise to prepare and warm up.
  • Static stretch. A static stretch requires you to hold a stretch comfortably for a period of about 10 to 30 seconds. It’s a form of stretching commonly done after exercise.

Stretching before physical activities prepare your muscles for activity, and regular stretching is believed to help improve blood flow to these muscles. Exercise to strengthen muscles combined with stretching helps to improve posture.

The Mayo Clinic notes that there are mixed results to the benefits of stretching. If you’re going to stretch, they recommend you understand what it can and cannot accomplish.

Often the best way to manage pain is by focusing on exactly where it is, and the best way to do this is with a topical pain reliever. CopperGel is a topical pain reliever that is clinically proven to help with joint and muscle pain and arthritis.

The direct application of a topical pain reliever also allows you to apply only as much as you need to get relief. It’s a smarter choice – especially for dealing with specific pain in muscle groups or joints. Questions or concerns? Please get in touch. You can send an email to or just fill out our online contact form.

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