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Should you stretch cold muscles?

Ok, what I'm putting out here is the title of this blog. I've always been told to NEVER stretch a cold muscle, but to warm up gently first. So here's my dilemma.

I'm currently having physiotherapy after 2 major bouts of surgery to try to correct a bio-mechanical issue in my ankle. After years of running and doing Triathlon including finishing 3 Ironman® Races, I reached the point where severe constant over-pronation had caused very painful impingement in my left ankle. I’d managed the condition for years with massage, stretching, hold/cold therapy and pain killers, but eventually nothing was working anymore and I reached the point where I could no longer run pain free and it was now hurting to teach my Spinning® Classes!

Surgery was the only option left. Firstly I had Gastrocnemius Recession (deep cut into the calf muscle to loosen it and promote more adequate ankle joint movement). 2 weeks off then back to teaching. 12 months later still no better. So then I had Debridement Surgery last year. Years of impingement had created a situation where I had bone growing on top of bone, and hardly any range of motion in my ankle. Plus, bone spurs had formed at the back of the joint and were constantly jabbing into my Achilles Tendon causing very painful tendonitis. Debridement involves shaving of the ankle joint and the base of the tibia to re-create the natural joint space. The calcification was cleaned up and the bony spurs removed. 6 months later, still no better. Why? Well I’m now having physiotherapy to address not the ankle, that’s now ok, but to address all the other conditions that have arisen as a result of the original problem.

Like Dr. Philip Maffetone says in his book ‘In Fitness and In Health’, the body tends to accumulate problems, often beginning with one small, seemingly minor imbalance. However this problem can cause another subtle imbalance, which triggers another, then another. In the end we get a symptom. It’s like a Domino Effect. All you need to do is knock down the first one and many other will fall too. What caused the last one to fall? Obviously it wasn’t the one before it, or the one before that, but the first one.

So ok, I’ve got my first problem sorted (my ankle), now I’ve got to sort out all the other ‘Domino’s’. My Physiotherapist says my calves, hamstrings and gluteal muscles are very tight (really…you don’t say…I’m a cyclist!) and need regular bouts of stretching every day.

She has told me how to stretch, but I’m really struggling to hold these stretches because they are so painful and I feel so tight. I mentioned that in the Fitness Industry we are told to never stretch a cold muscle. But she says for rehabilitation purposes the muscle should be stretched cold!

I’d like to get your take on this, or indeed if anyone has been in a similar position.

In the meantime I’ll battle with the stretching band I’ve been given, the slant board I’ve had to buy, my foam roller and my determination to get back to my running! I’ll keep you posted as to my progress, but I’m still not convinced that stretching cold muscles is the way to go!

 Michelle Colvin

International Spinning® Master Instructor (UK)





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