Most of my logic and advice is given based on my education, personal and professional experiences. When I apply this in person to my patients the advice may vary depending on the injury or issue in front of me.
One point I want to make clear is that there is no golden rule for everyone. We are so unique and many factors such as age, health, occupation and general activities will affect what stretching means for us. The medical world is always evolving and new theories are being tried and tested all the time. For now, the advice I give on stretching is pretty basic, in my experience it doesn’t need to be complicated or fancy.
Stretching is a must for all as flexibility is part of a person’s fitness. There are many factors to fitness and I feel flexibility or muscle length and condition is overlooked. When a person has poor flexibility the risk of injury goes up. In extreme cases, you may find it hard to look over your shoulder, pick a towel up from the floor or reach into the top cupboard. When your body is this limited how do you think it will react to running, lifting weights or even just day-to-day living?
Age should not stop someone trying to remain fit and have an active lifestyle. You will need to take into consideration joints and muscles will get stiffer and tighter as the years go on. Starting from a young age is the better option, however, age should not stop you trying to improve your flexibility.
When a person stretches regularly changes start to take place within muscles and surrounding soft tissues. Quality, tension and length are all improved. It is important to stretch gently and not feel like you are pulling your leg off, getting pins and needles or increasing any painful symptoms. The body reacts negatively to stress so forcing a position or taking a stretch too deep too quickly will only result in a negative reaction. Studies have shown that if you stress a muscle the body contracts to protect itself resulting in the muscles shortening further. Other muscular issues such as cramp may start causing further damage.
Stretching when you are already warm from exercise or have been up and about for a few hours is best. Your blood supply is better and muscles, soft tissues and even joints will be a little warmer and pliable. You can use certain stretches to aid as a warm-up and be part of a cool down, this can allow you an incite into your workout and help you discover why certain movements seem difficult or you fatigue quickly.
How I advise stretching to be done.
As with all movements in life, posture is key. I always advise patients to have a timer with them; you will be surprised at how slow time passes when stretching. Cushions, hand towels, foam rollers, belt, tennis balls or massage balls are all greats aids for a stretching session. Breathing is used to help deepen a stretch; it is also a good marker to check if you are stretching too quickly and with too much force. You can cause injury by overstretching or stretching too deeply and quickly. If you rush stretching or use a poor technique you will only aggravate your existing injury or worse, create a new one.
I give patients simple markers such as you should be able to hold any stretch position for two minutes without going numb, being in pain or if you have any, increasing the symptoms. Unless specified for a different reason, a stretch that is designed to elongate the connective tissues and muscle fascia should be held for a minimum of 30 seconds – you can now see why the timer is so useful. I encourage patients to use slow, deep and controlled breaths as they deepen the stretch over the 30 seconds or and up to two minutes.
I encourage patients to experiment how a stretch feels depending on how you use your body weight. Some stretches are best performed stood others best lying still with the use of gravity. It is also about finding out what fits into your life. I personally don’t have time to spend 30 minutes stretching every evening when I get in from work so I do particular areas throughout the day. Waiting for the kettle to boil, bus to arrive or TV programme to start? Get off your smartphone and think about ways you could stretch.
Using classes such as body balance, Yoga, Pilates and Pure stretch are a great way to integrate the routine into your life. Many local gyms and locally run studios run classes of this nature so ask around or ask me for some advice. If you haven’t been advised against these classes they are the perfect way to discovering any weakness or problems areas, you can then take small parts of the class and practice at home. You will be surprised at how quickly you will improve on the routines with this attitude.
Any questions or thoughts are welcome, please contact me via the contact me page on the website.