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Self Care – Basics of Ice-and-Stretch

Pain. Soreness. Restricted range of motion. The combination of stretching and icing can rid these ailments quickly if done correctly. In fact, any stretching routine can be faster, more effective, and easier when combined with icing. Ice-and-stretch is a great adaptation of two other popular routines: Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) and Stretch-N-Spray.

Ice and stretch is a great adaptation
of Active Isolated Stretching and Stretch-n-Spray.

Active Isolated Stretching

According to the site Stretching USA, Active Isolated Stretching “is a type of Athletic Stretching Technique” that “provides effective, dynamic, facilitated stretching of major muscle groups.” What is new and different from what you and I learned in school sports is the length of time in the stretch. Our old school method was to hold the stretch as long as 60 seconds. Turns out, however, that prolonged and static technique actually reduces blood flow. Holding the stretch increases lactic acid buildup, which can lead to injury.

New School Stretching

A more effective and less harmful approach involves multiple stretches for shorter periods – no more than two seconds. This approach to stretching is NOT the bouncing that you sometimes saw athletes using when we were younger. Instead, the stretch lasts a second or so, then the limb or muscle is taken FULLY back to the starting position and then carefully stretched again. What we find is that, when done correctly, each subsequent stretch goes further than the previous repetition.

Furthermore, AIS…

  • Builds muscle as it lengthens the muscle
  • Often mobilizes fixation in joints that prevent trigger points from releasing
  • Is safer than traditional stretching
  • Reeducates motor planning (IS THIS PLANING OR PLANNING AND WHAT IS IT?)
  • Works with the nervous system instead of against it.

Cold is Even Cooler

If you had a therapist apply Stretch-n-Spray, you know this involved the use of a vapocoolant that is only available by prescription. And, that this made the technique expensive and in need of prescription medication. Using ice creates a similar effect only without the expense and trouble of a prescription process.  Best of all, you can teach yourself how to do it.

Here’s how: Shocking the skin with cold does several things:

  • It releases the muscle’s resistance to stretch
  • It reduces the muscle’s pain response during the stretch
  • It dramatically softens (i.e. relaxes) the muscle
  • It prepares the muscle for other treatments like massage.

How to Ice-and-Stretch

  1. Hold a large ice cube in a hand towel (keeps the process from getting messy.
    Check out these cool cube trays for fancy cocktails. The big square cubes make this much easier.
  2. Apply the ice directly to the tense or painful area for a second or so.
    It is essential that the ice is shocking to the skin to produce the response that releases the muscle.
    When an area is more sensitive to the ice, that indicates that the muscle is tighter with more active trigger points.
  3. Dry with the towel. Drying creates a better release to make the stretching more effective. Set the ice and towel aside.
  4. Stretch the muscle to the point of slight irritation, not more, and for no more than two seconds.
    Stretch slowly, especially at the end of the movement.  (If someone is assisting, have them guide the motion, not intensify the stretch)
  5. Un-stretch the muscle by fully returning to the starting position.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5, stretching a little further each time, if possible.

After 5 stretches, you should experience significant improvement in the ability for the muscle to move again.

You can vary the direction of the stretch as well as in the post on The Box.

Ice-and-Stretch is very different from using an ice pack or ice plunges. 

This post reviews how Ice packs work, when to use them and other useful guidelines.

See Ice-and-Stretch in Action

Here’s a short video on how to get rid of a hangover with Ice-and-Stretch. It is a great example of how to use the technique and a popular remedy.

By the way, Active Isolated Stretching is more effective than any other type of stretching I have encountered. This post on how I became a believer in Active Isolated Stretching might be interesting to read. 

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Tony Preston has a practice in Atlanta, Georgia, where he sees clients. He has written and taught about anatomy, trigger points, and cranial therapies since the mid-90s.

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*This site is undergoing significant changes. We are reformatting and expanding the posts to make them easier to read. The result will also be more accessible and will include more patterns with better self-care. In the meanwhile, there may be inconsistencies in formatting, content presentation, and readability. Until we get older posts updated, please excuse our mess.