We all stretch at some points of our day, like when you are getting out of bed or standing after sitting for a long time. We do it to feel an ease in the tension in our muscles that uphold our posture. This is especially true after assuming a certain position for a long period of time.
Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you call on the muscles for activity, they are unable to extend all the way. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage.
A good example is sitting in a chair all day. This results in tight hamstrings in the back of the thigh. That can make it harder to extend your leg or straighten your knee all the way, which inhibits walking. Likewise, when tight muscles are suddenly called on for a strenuous activity that stretches them, such as playing tennis, they may become damaged from suddenly being stretched.
The areas critical for mobility are around your joints in the lower extremities; your calves, your hamstrings, your hip flexors in the pelvis and quadriceps in the front of the thigh. The shoulders, neck, and lower back are also beneficial. Aim for a program of daily stretches or at least three or four times per week.
If you are participating in a sport the best time to stretch is after your warm up routine. This is because it is easier to stretch a muscle with a good blood supply as it respond well to lengthening.
A well-designed warm-up starts by increasing body heat and blood flow. Warm muscles and dilated blood vessels pull oxygen from the bloodstream more efficiently and use stored muscle fuel more effectively. They also withstand loads better.
Then after the exercise ensure to do a cool down and more stretching to prevent the occurrence of muscle tightening and encourage flexibility after the exercise and soreness on the next day.
Types of Stretching
We have two types of stretching; Static stretching and dynamic stretching.
A static stretch involves stretching your muscle to a point where you feel a slight discomfort, but not to the point where you feel pain. The stretch and your position are then held with no movement for a period of time 15- 20s. This is a very effective way to increase flexibility. However, In athletes these stretches should only be done after athletic activity, during cool-down). This is because using static stretching in a warm-up prior to an athletic activity may actually negatively impact your performance. This is because static stretching may limit your body’s ability to react quickly.
Static stretches should be used as part of your cool-down routine to help prevent injury.
Most of the time static stretches are prescribed by physiotherapists in order to improve flexibility especially in non-athletic persons. The use of static stretching as a maintenance stretching program helps reduce the risk of injury.
An example of this is; Hamstring stretch for the muscles at the back of the thigh
Dynamic stretches are controlled movements that prepare your muscles, ligaments and other soft tissues for performance and safety. It involves the active tightening of your muscles and moving your joints through their full range of motion.
Dynamic stretches should be used as part of your warm-up routine before any athletic event, whether competitive or not. A complete athletic warm-up should incorporate about 5 to 10 minutes of low- to moderate-intensity swimming, jogging or cycling, followed by dynamic stretching.
Examples of this is; Walking lunge for the hip flexors.
These are just some of the stretches that can be incorporated to improve mobility and flexibility. Consult with your physiotherapist for a more specialized stretching program.
Joy W. Waihenya,
Chiropractic & Physiotherapy Centre