To improve flexibility and avoid injury, it’s recommended that you go through a stretching routine before and after your workouts.

Some workouts even incorporate specific stretching, such as yoga or Pilates.

However, overstretching, or stretching your muscles significantly beyond their normal range of motion, can result in injury.

In this article, we’ll review what it feels like when you stretch your muscles too far, and how to treat and prevent injuries that may occur as a result of overstretching.

When you’re stretching properly, you can usually feel a slight pull in the muscle. Although stretching properly may feel less than 100 percent comfortable, you should push a little to increase flexibility over time.

According to the University of Rochester, start your stretch slowly until you reach a point of muscle tension and then hold it for up to 20 seconds. “Stretching should not be painful.”

A sharp or stabbing pain means that you’re stretching your muscles beyond their capacity for flexibility. You are overstretching and potentially injuring yourself.

Another indication of overstretching, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is feeling sore the day after you stretched. If you feel sore the day after stretching, MIT suggests reducing the intensity of some (or all) of your stretches.

Sometimes during a stretching routine, but more likely while engaged in a workout or playing a sport, overstretching may appear in the form of a strain or a sprain:

  • A strain is caused by overstretching or overexerting a tendon (attaches muscle to bone) or muscle.
  • A sprain is caused by overstretching or tearing a ligament (connects bone to bone).

The first thing to do if you think you have a strain or a sprain is to stop the activity you were doing when you experienced the injury, and rest. This is the first step of the well-known R.I.C.E. treatment.

The other steps in R.I.C.E. are:

  • Ice. The faster you can apply ice or cold packs to the injured area the better. If possible, apply the ice (15 to 20 minutes on, 15 to 20 minutes off) for 48 to 72 hours following the injury.
  • Compress. Being careful not to make it too tight, wrap the injured area with an elastic bandage. Be prepared to loosen the bandage if swelling makes it too binding.
  • Elevate. Raise the injured area above your heart. Keep it elevated even while icing it and when sleeping.

If you’re experiencing pain, consider taking acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), or other over the counter (OTC) pain medication according to label directions.

If, after a few days of following R.I.C.E., you’re not experiencing improvement, schedule an appointment with your doctor. You might need a cast, or, if you have a tear, surgery may be recommended.

Since overstretching is caused by pushing muscles, tendons, and ligaments beyond their normal limits, the best way to avoid overstretching is to stay within your capacity for flexibility.

You can reduce your risk of overstretching by warming up completely before playing a sport or beginning any other workout. Try light cardio and consider specific exercises to warm up the muscles you’ll be working.

Other ways you can position yourself to avoid injury from overstretching include:

  • staying hydrated
  • using proper form when stretching and working out
  • using proper gear and footwear
  • avoiding exercising when you’re overly tired or in pain

Overstretching can result in an injury, such as a strain or a sprain.

To avoid overstretching or pushing your range of motion beyond your capability for flexibility take steps, such as:

  • warming up properly before working out
  • using correct form during workouts and when stretching
  • using properly fitted footwear
  • staying hydrated

If you do injure yourself by overstretching, try the R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) protocol. If a few days of R.I.C.E. treatments are not effective, see your doctor.