16 May Why Stretching Is Important?
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 active use, they are weak and unable to extend fully, putting you at risk for joint pains, strains, and/or muscle damage.
As an example, sitting in a chair all day without waking up to walk around every so often will result in tight hamstrings in the back of the thigh by the end of the day. That can make it difficult to extend your leg or straighten your knee all the way, which will in turn inhibit your walking. Likewise, when tight muscles are suddenly called on for a strenuous activity, such as playing sport, they may become damaged from suddenly being stretched. Injured muscles may not be strong enough to adequately support the joints and this can lead to joint injury.
Stretching is therefore important as it:
- Improves your joint range of motion
- Improves your athletic performance
- Decreases your risk of injury
Before you begin stretching, it is important to ensure that you do so safely. While you can stretch anywhere, anytime, proper technique is key. Stretching incorrectly is not only ineffective but can actually do more harm than good.
Follow these tips for safe stretching:
- Do not consider stretching as a warmup – We used to believe that stretching was necessary to warm up the muscles and prepare them for physical activity, however, research suggests that stretching the muscles before they are warmed up can actually hurt them. When the muscles are cold, the muscle fibres aren’t prepared and may be damaged. Doing 5-10 minutes of light activity, such as walking or jogging, before stretching will get the blood flowing and make tissues more pliable and amenable to change.
- Strive for symmetry – Rather than striving for the flexibility of a gymnast or a dancer, focus on having equal flexibility on both sides of your body, especially if you have a history of injury, as flexibility that is not equal on both sides may put you at higher risk of future injury.
- Concentrate on major muscle groups – focus more on those areas critical for mobility such as your calves, hamstrings, hip flexors in the pelvis and quadriceps in the front of the thigh. Stretching your shoulders, neck, and lower back is also beneficial.
- Hold your stretch – Breathe normally and hold each stretch for about 30 seconds. In problem areas, you may need to hold for 45-60 seconds.
- Do not push too far – You should feel tension during a stretch but you should not feel pain. If you do, you have pushed too far and/or there may be an injury or damage in the tissue. Ease up to the point where you no longer feel pain and then hold the stretch. If the pain persists, stop stretching that muscle and consult with your doctor.
- Do not bounce – Stretch in a smooth movement, without bouncing. Bouncing as you stretch can injure your muscles and contribute to muscle tightness.
- Make your stretches sport-specific – some evidence suggests that it is helpful to do stretches involving the muscles used most in the sport or activity you participate in. If you play football, for example, stretch your hamstrings as you are more vulnerable to hamstring strains.
- Keep at it – As with most things in life, commitment and consistency is key to achieving and maintaining your desired result. Stretching regularly (at least three times a week) will have you reaping the rewards but failing to do so means you risk losing the potential benefits. For example, if stretching helped you increase your range of motion, your range of motion may decrease again when you stop stretching.
OsteoVision practitioners specialise in sports injuries and rehabilitation. For a more thorough assessment and coaching in reducing muscle tension, speak to one of our team members who will help you through your recovery. We have availability at our clinics in Frimley, Guildford and Surbiton.