Stretching and Pain – What’s the Difference?

Sometimes it can be tough to know if you’re feeling the “right” thing in a yoga class. I’ve been asked a few times if the place a student is feeling the stretch is correct. Here are a few signs to look for if you’re not sure if you’re feeling a stretch in the right place and how to tell the difference between stretching and pain.

Picture of someone stretching with text overlayed that says How to Tell the Difference Between Stretching and Pain.

For a lot of people, especially those who are on the more flexible side, it can be really challenging to figure out what exactly is going on in your body. I myself have been guilty of this. When I first started practicing yoga I would come into a low lunge with the back knee down and lean my hips as far forwards as I could. This was the only way I could actually feel anything in this pose, but I later learned that what I was feeling wasn’t exactly a stretching sensation in the right place.

It can be pretty common for people to feel like they need to go to the absolute extreme in order to feel something, especially if the person leans more on the flexible side, and that’s exactly what I was doing. I started to feel something around my front hip, and thought “well that’s what I should be feeling.” Fast forward a few years later to me learning about the body and I realize this was not a muscular stretch that I was feeling. Why? 

Because in general, you want to feel stretches in the “belly”, or center, of the muscle.

So in this stretch, I would have ideally felt it more in the center of the front of my thigh – not closer to the hip where I had been feeling it.

If this is confusing, don’t worry. Here are a few simple bullet points to look for when you’re practicing yoga to make sure you’re feeling a stretch and not pain:

  • Make sure the feeling you’re feeling is in the center of the muscle – not closer to a joint. So in a forward fold, try to feel it in the center of your back thigh – not close to the knee – not close to your butt. 
    • Note: If you don’t feel it here, adjust your position and get creative and explorative to try to find a place where you do feel it in the center of the muscle. This might mean engaging the muscle more, or backing out of the stretch even.

Ask Yourself These Questions:

  1. Are you feeling something sharp? This is pain.
  2. Are you feeling something pinch? This is pain.
  3. Is the feeling dull or achy? This could also be pain.

Ultimately a stretch should feel good. It can feel intense, but it should ultimately feel good. That is the main difference between stretching and pain.

And I’ll leave with a question for you: What poses are you not quite sure that you’re feeling the right thing? How can you change what you’re doing and get explorative in your practice to figure out what works best for your body? 

Drop me your answers in the comments below, and if there’s a pose you’re not sure how to alter let me know as well!

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