Whether you are an elite Olympic athlete, a full-time gardener, a teenage skate-boarder, a grandparent keeping up with the grandkids, or you sit behind a desk all day at work, a common question that should be answered before embarking on a regular stretch routine is…why?
- Injury Recovery - To restore range of motion and function and to help manage pain post-injury.
“We know that even minor injuries can cause adhesions in the fascia, which mean the layers of this tissue may become “stuck” and lose their ability to glide as they do in healthy connective tissue. These issues can accumulate, with pain leading to reduced mobility and activity, and reduced mobility and activity contributing to worsening pain, resulting in a persistent cycle of deterioration or exacerbation.” (1)
Also, “Research in animal models has shown that stretching has anti-inflammatory effects in several types of inflammation, and we need to understand better if this holds true in humans.” (1)
- Injury Prevention - micro-break stretches incorporated throughout the day, can help balance tissue exposure to repetitive and sustained tasks of daily living, and within occupations considered high riskfor repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
- General tissue health maintenance – Regular stretching to maintain full mobility of structures that cross the joints, can ensure optimal joint health, and can effectively assist with the management of conditions such as osteoarthritis (OA).
- Cardiovascular health – to assist with the management of blood pressure.
“A new University of Saskatchewan (USask) study has found that stretching is superior to brisk walking for reducing blood pressure in people with high blood pressure or who are at risk of developing elevated levels,” (2) thus sparking the interest for more research to uncover more specifics as to exact mechanisms behind these results.
And just as the purpose for stretching can be highly variable, so can the tissues it affects.
Exactly what are we stretching?
Structures affected by stretching include:
- Muscle tissue
- Connective tissue, including ligaments and fascia, which serve as the links among the muscles, bone, blood vessels, and organs in your body.
- Nerve tissue including that of the Central Nervous System, dura and peripheral systems.
How are you stretching?
General Stretching guidelines include:
- Warm up for a few minutes first so your muscles stretch more easily (walk briskly, march in place, or do another physical activity).
- Balance your stretches by doing them at least two to three times on each side, taking turns.
- Keep good form and posture, being purposeful about targeting the area you are focusing on.
- Breathe throughout each stretch — never hold your breath.
- You should feel slight discomfort and a pulling sensation, but not pain, with each stretch.
- Never bounce while stretching — hold steady till you feel the stretch and try to relax while holding.
- In the case of stretching to recover lost range of motion, always balance it with strengthening in the new available range to minimize risk of re-injury.
“While research points to the various mind and body approaches for managing stress, stretching is an appealing option for those coping with social distancing measures because it’s something you can do daily, at home, and it can positively impact your health. (1)
Curious to know more about Stretching - let us know how we can help!
~ Elizabeth Stefanyshyn-Alonso, Physiotherapist