Have you ever stopped to ask yourself, why am I stretching this? Better yet, does this area need to be stretched?
As with most things, the answer is that it depends, which begins with knowing the reason why a muscle has become stiff in the first place.
Soft tissues will adapt to being in a chronically shortened position and thus become stiff. This often occurs as a result of movement compensations and postural dysfunction. When attempting to correct these issues (ie. The cause of the stiffened tissue), stretching or inhibition of stiff tissues is often necessary.
However, if you attempt to simply stretch an area that feels stiff without also correcting the reasons for it then you are wasting your time.
A muscle may become stiff in an attempt to protect against an injury. For example, those with chronic lower back pain often have stiff hamstrings. The hamstrings can provide added control to the pelvis as they attach to it. The hamstrings are “tightening” to provide added control to the lumbo-pelvic region due to an instability or lack of control in this region.
Therefore, one must learn optimal motor control and stabilization strategies for the lumbo-pelvic region, rather than stretch the hamstrings. When the spine and pelvis are under better control, the brain can then allow the hamstrings to let go as this added layer of defense is no longer necessary.
An increased risk of injury occurs when compensations (ie. Stiff muscles) are taken away (ie. Stretched) without addressing the reasons why they occurred initially.
Next time you are attempting to stretch a muscle, ask yourself why is this muscle stiff in the first place?