Stretching is a popular exercise regimen that may have many benefits. Your physical therapist can show you the best ways to stretch to help keep you moving with a full range of motion. Stretching activities are an important part of any exercise or rehabilitation program.
According to the American Council on Exercise, the benefits of stretching include:
– Increased flexibility and joint range of motion: Flexible muscles can improve your daily performance. Tasks such as lifting packages, bending to tie your shoes or hurrying to catch a bus become easier and less tiring. Flexibility tends to diminish as you get older, but you can regain and maintain it.
– Improved circulation: Stretching increases blood flow to your muscles. Blood flowing to your muscles brings nourishment and gets rid of waste products in the muscle tissue. Improved circulation can help shorten your recovery time if you’ve had any muscle injuries.
– Better posture: Frequent stretching can help keep your muscles from getting tight, allowing you to maintain proper posture. Good posture can minimize discomfort and keep aches and pains at a minimum.
– Stress relief: Stretching relaxes tight, tense muscles that often accompany stress.
– Enhanced performance: Maintaining the full range-of-motion through your joints keeps you in better balance and your muscles work more efficiently. Coordination and balance will help keep you mobile and less prone to injury from falls, especially as you get older.
– Most research shows that stretching does not actually reduce injury risk. People who stretch before athletic competition are just as likely to get injured as non-stretchers.
Who Should Avoid Stretching?
Although the benefits of stretching are many, it is not for everyone. Before starting a stretching regimen, be sure to talk to your doctor. This is especially important if you’ve had hip or back surgery. Your doctor can guide you to some safe ways to stretch your lower body that won’t aggravate any past injuries.
Conditions in which stretching should be avoided include:
– Acute Muscle Strains: People who have suffered an acute muscle strain should avoid placing further stress on the muscle through stretching activities. The injured muscle should be given time to rest. Stretching muscle fibres in the acute period can result in further injury.
– Fractured Bones: After breaking a bone, the fracture site needs time to heal. Stretching muscles that surround this injured area can place stress on the bone and prevent it from healing as well as further displace the break. Stretching a joint that surrounds a broken bone should never be done until cleared by your physician.
– Joint Sprains: When you sprain your joint, you overstretch the ligaments that help stabilize the bones that form the joint. For this reason, stretching early after a joint sprain should be avoided. As with fractures, these structures need time to heal and stretching too early in the injury will delay this process.
Before you plunge into stretching, make sure you do it safely and effectively. While you can stretch anytime, anywhere, be sure to use proper technique. Stretching incorrectly can actually do more harm than good.
– While static stretching (stretching muscles without warming up in an effort to loosen them) before a sporting activity has been shown to decrease muscle strength and power, also increase the risk of pulled muscle, after workout is a good time for this type of stretching. Your body already being warm from exercise will help lengthen that muscle tissue.
– Instead of static stretching, try performing a “dynamic warmup.” A dynamic warm-up involves performing movements similar to those in your sport or physical activity at a low level, then gradually increasing the speed and intensity as you warm up. Examples of incorporating stretching into your warmup include: performing lunges, doing high kicks, push-ups, jump squats — almost any heart boosting activity that engages the same muscles you are about to use in your sports activity or workout.
– Strive for symmetry. Everyone’s genetics for flexibility are a bit different. Rather than striving for the flexibility of a dancer or gymnast, focus on having equal flexibility side to side (especially if you have a history of a previous injury). Flexibility that is not equal on both sides may be a risk factor for injury.
– Major muscle groups really benefit from stretching. Focus on shoulders and neck, calves and thighs, hips, and lower back. Also stretch muscles and joints that you routinely use.
– Don’t bounce: Bouncing as you stretch can cause small tears (micro tears) in the muscle, which leave scar tissue as the muscle heals. The scar tissue tightens the muscle even further, making you even less flexible—and more prone to pain.
– Remember to breathe. Exhale while going into the stretch; hold the stretch as you inhale.
– Hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds: It takes time to lengthen tissues safely. Hold your stretches up to 30 seconds; in problem areas, you may need to hold for around 60 seconds. That can seem like a long time, so wear a watch or keep an eye on the clock to make sure you’re holding your stretches long enough. You can repeat the stretches 2 or 3 times.
– Focus on a pain-free stretch: Go into each stretch slowly so you have time to pay attention to the sensation you feel. Expect to feel tension while you’re stretching, not pain. If it hurts, you’ve pushed too far. Back off to the point where you don’t feel any pain, then hold the stretch.
– Keep up with your stretching. Stretching can be time-consuming. But you can achieve the most benefits by stretching regularly, at least two to three times a week. Skipping regular stretching means you risk losing the potential benefits.
Path to improved health
Think about waking up in the morning. Most likely, one of the first things you do without even thinking about it is stretch. Stretching is instinctive, meaning that your body already is leading you to do it.
Stretching at work
If you find yourself getting sleepy at work or school or losing concentration, it’s time to stretch. Stretching at work can guard against repetitive-motion injuries that are caused by deskwork and it can boost energy, as well.
Stretching for seniors
It’s all about maintaining that flexibility when it comes to stretching for seniors. Flexibility will help with balance, which is another great benefit. Being flexible and balanced promotes safety in day-to-day activities.
Some major muscle group stretches