Stretching relaxes and lengthens tight, cramped muscles and increases flexibility thereby reducing muscular and joint pain. When we stretch, we increase our circulation, improve our posture, release stress and fight gravity. Stretching both before and after exercise reduces the risk of injury. Done correctly, stretching should never cause pain or soreness. It is important to get instruction in the correct stretching techniques because done incorrectly stretching can exacerbate problems. You want to hold each stretch for 2-5 full, deep slow breaths moving into and out of the stretch slowly while paying attention to the muscles stretching. Stretching and relaxing muscles takes time and patience. Do not stretch past the point of comfort. Besides lengthening and relaxing the muscles, stretching is also an excellent self-educator increasing your body awareness when done deliberately. Stretch 'heated' muscles - Stretching a cold muscle can strain and irritate the tissue. Warm up first. Walk before you jog, jog before you run, etc. It's most beneficial to stretch after you exercise, when the muscle is heated by blood flow and is more accommodating of a stretch. Do not bounce! Bouncing can cause micro-trauma in the muscle, which must heal itself with scar tissue. The scar tissue tightens the muscle, making you less flexible and more prone to pain.
An important stretching technique for muscles in spasm and pain is the "stretch point" exercise. The stretch point is the exact point at which the muscle just begins to stretch. It is easiest to find the stretch point with your eyes closed during the entire exercise. To find the stretch point, very slowly and gently stretch the muscle to feel the stretch. Then back off the stretch until the muscle is no longer stretching. Then, as slowly as you can, move back into the stretch until you just begin to feel a very slight drag or resistance. To test this point move a fraction of an inch, less than 1/64 of an inch, back and forth and check that the muscle is moving in and out the extremely tiny stretch. Once you find the stretch point, hold that position until the muscle releases, which should be less than 15 seconds. If you do not feel a release, you are not at the stretch point. Once the muscle releases, the stretch is done and can be repeated as many times as you wish. You will notice that doing this exercise over time, the stretch point will move toward the direction of more stretch. This is all extremely subtle. If you have been unaware of your body, learning the stretch point exercise will take considerable practice but once you learn it, you will find it very useful. The stretch point exercise is very subtle and can be used with muscles in extreme spasm.
Another very important little known muscle relaxation technique that is really not a stretch is called "counter strain". Counter strain is used for muscle cramps. This technique will immediately reduce or even stop an active muscle cramp. The technique is to isometrically tense the opposite muscle to the one that is cramping. For example, if you are having a "Charlie horse" or your calf muscle (gastroc nemius soleus) is cramping, you need to tense the shin muscle (anterior tibialis) without moving your foot. To explain how to do this, let's assume your right calf is cramping. Place your left foot on top of the toes of your right foot and pull up your right foot (your toes will try to move toward your nose) against the resistance of your left foot. You don't want to move your right foot, you just want to try to move your right foot against the resistance of your left foot. You can accomplish the same thing by hooking your right foot under a couch or having someone hold it - as long as you are pulling the foot against something not moving. This technique works because muscles do not push, they only pull and they usually work in pairs to move a joint. In the case of moving your foot up or down, the calf muscle moves the foot down and the shin muscle moves the foot up. When one muscle tenses, the other automatically relaxes. So if a muscle is cramping tense the opposite muscle against an immovable object. Another example would be to tense your tricep with your wrist pushing against an immovable object if your bicep is cramping. Unfortunately, the counter strain technique is difficult to use with a back or neck muscle cramp because the spine usually moves with a combination of muscles working together - some that run vertically, some horizontally and some diagonally.