Stretches can help prevent muscle soreness and reduce your risk of injury; they can also improve overall flexibility, decrease your post workout recovery time and improve posture and balance. While many stretching exercises are very effective and safe, others are risky and should be avoided or practiced with care under the supervision of a licensed professional. Here are some of the riskiest stretches and why you should think carefully before attempting them.
1. Straight Legged Toe Touches
This stretch calls for keeping your legs straight while you bend over and touch your toes, with a bent spine. Stretching in this manner can be dangerous. Straight legged toe touches encourage hyperextension of the knees, which occurs when ligaments become stretches, and can lead to knee injury. Straight legged toe touches also put pressure on the disk of the lumbar spine and can lead to spinal disk herniation.
2. Hurdler's Stretch
The traditional hurdler's stretch calls for you to sit on the ground with one leg extended in front of you and the other leg bent behind you. You're intended to bend backwards in order to stretch the quads on the bent leg. There's a two legged version of the hurdler's stretch, which requires bending both legs behind and leaning backward for a double quad stretch.
The hurdler's stretch is dangerous for the following reasons:
- It stretches the medial ligaments in the knee.
- It crushes the meniscus, or the disk of cartliage found in your knee.
- It can lead to slippage of the knee cap, which could result in a twisted or compressed knee cap.
3. Torso Twists
Torso twists can cause spinal injury if performed in a sudden, jerking manner. It's also very dangerous to use weights when performing a torso twist, as this can intensify muscle injury.
4. Inverted Stretches
Inverted stretches increase blood pressure and may even cause blood vessels to rupture if they are sustained too long. Those with back problems should avoid inverted stretches.
5. The Traditional Backbend
In the traditional backbend, you place your hands and feet on the floor, arch your back and tilt your head back. This position places pressure on spinal disks and could lead to disk herniation. It can also lead to pinched nerves in the spine.
6. The Yoga Plough
The yoga plough asks you to lie on your back and then bring your legs up until your knees touch your ears. Some versions of this stretch ask you to continue extending your feet behind your head until your legs are straight and your toes touch the floor. While the yoga plough can be very beneficial when practiced properly, it's very easy to do incorrectly, so don't attempt it on your own until you've become comfortable with the stretch under professional guidance.
Dangers of the yoga plough include:
- The yoga plough places pressure on the disks of the spine, especially the lumbar spine, which could lead to disk injury.
- The yoga plough compresses the heart and lungs, so it can be difficult to breathe while performing this stretch.
- The yoga plough is difficult to perform correctly because the region it stretches, in the upper back, is quite tight in most people.