“I know I should stretch more, but... ”
Summer has finally arrived and now is a great time to think about increasing our activity level and enjoying some of the fresh and warmer outdoors! Before suddenly lacing up the running shoes, here is some important information about including a regular stretching program into your routine!
The benefits of stretching has been a hot topic in the literature and studies have had mixed results. If you turn to the experts or the researchers for the answers, the only consensus on stretching is there is no consensus. So what DO we know about stretching and is it for everyone??
Why Stretch? The Benefits of Flexibility
We DO know that muscles get tight and general stretching happens with all of our daily movements. Simple position changes in your desk chair to improve comfort in your body is stretching at its basic level. Keeping your body moving in this way helps to avoid pain and prevent injury. But what about therapeutic stretching? Research shows that stretching can help improve flexibility and consequently, improve range of motion of your joints. Better flexibility can:
- Keep muscles at optimum length consequently keeping them strong and avoiding muscle imbalances
- Decrease your risk of injury
- Help your joints move through their full range of motion
- Enable your muscles to work most effectively
Before You Stretch
Before you start stretching it is important that you do it safely and effectively. Use these tips to keep stretching safe:
- Warm up first. Stretching a cold muscle can cause injury. Try walking, a light jog or biking first. Even a heating pad to the muscle you want to stretch or a warm shower can help.
- Focus on symmetrical flexibility. Everyone’s genetics for flexibility are different so no comparisons, just focus on creating even flexibility side to side to help decrease risk factors for injury.
- Focus on major muscle groups. Concentrate your stretches on muscles and joints you commonly use. Calves, thighs, hips, back, neck and shoulders making sure you stretch both sides.
- Hold your stretch– with no bounce. Keep your hold smooth, breathing normally or slightly deeper than normal for about 30 seconds.
- Feel tension, NOT pain. If it hurts you are pushing too far. Bring it back to the point where there is only a sense of tension and then hold.
- Make stretching a routine. Research shows to see lasting results and maintain those, stretching needs to be done 2-3 x/week.
- Try stretch programs or activities. ie) Yoga, Pilates or Tai Chi
Stretching Where it Hurts
Another question when it comes to stretching is when to know if it’s ok to stretch an area of the body experiencing pain. Physiotherapists are trained to identify muscle imbalances in the body that may be contributing to your pain. Once the tight muscles are identified a Physiotherapist can prescribe a specific stretching program to suit your body, your abilities and the type of activity or sport you are participating in.
Foam Rollers - Rolling Out Muscles
So, what about “rolling out” the muscles? Another popular approach to muscle release these days is “rolling out” your muscles on a foam roller. Essentially, foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release or self-massage, that gets rid of adhesions in your muscles and connective tissue. Foam rolling can also increase blood flow to your muscles which can help with recovery. Foam rollers seem to be everywhere these days, at the gym, the office, even portable types you can fit in your work bag. But it is very important to use the foam roller the right way as not to irritate certain structures of the body or cause injured areas to get worse. Once again, a Physiotherapist will be able to tailor a foam rolling release program for you or incorporate this into your home program if this tool is available to you or would be beneficial to your condition.
Living Without Muscle Imbalances
Overall it’s important to remember, without muscle imbalances your body is free to move as it was meant to with less effort and less pain. Having good flexibility and range of motion will allow you to stay active, healthy and enjoy life! If you would like a program designed specifically for you, contact the clinic to see one of our physiotherapists at 613-692-1847 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!.