It’s easy to forget to stretch. It’s often overlooked because the results are not as visible as lifting weights and squatting—or so you thought.
You may think of stretching as something performed only by runners or gymnasts. But we all need to stretch in order to protect our mobility and independence. A lot of people don’t understand that stretching has to happen on a regular basis. It should be daily.
Why Is It 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 activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage.
For example, sitting in a chair all day 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. Injured muscles may not be strong enough to support the joints, which can lead to joint injury.
Regular stretching keeps muscles long, lean, and flexible, and this means that exertion won’t put too much force on the muscle itself. Healthy muscles also help a person with balance problems to avoid falls.
Great Benefits of Stretching
Good Posture and Better Blood Circulation
Stretching can lead to better posture, fewer aches and pains, greater confidence, and a cheerier outlook on life. That’s because stretching increases your blood flow and circulation for a healthier body and sends oxygen to your brain for a clearer mind and sunnier mood.
Terrific for Your Thoracic Spine
Your thoracic spine, which is located in the middle of your back, is very important to stretch and keep moving. Simple rotational stretches throughout the day are extremely important if you drive, sit, or just stay in one place for a few hours of the day.
When the thoracic spine becomes tight, it can create many problems up and down the chain of the body. Neck, shoulders and chest can tighten up or become unstable and weak with a tight thoracic spine.
Daily use of muscles can cause them to get tight, especially if you regularly carry a purse or backpack. The heavier the bag, the more your body can tighten up on one side. Stretching can alleviate muscle tightness and bring your body back to feeling better balanced.
Regular stretching can relieve stiff muscles and creaky joints, but to reap those benefits, it’s important to stretch the correct way. Avoid the static stretch, or ‘stretch and hold. Focus on mobility by doing range-of-motion exercises and soft tissue work with foam rollers. Range-of-motion exercises include shoulder shrugs, wrist bends, and knee lifts—anything that keeps your muscles and joints moving through their full range of motion.
We used to believe that stretching was necessary to warm up the muscles and prepare them for activity. However, mounting research has shown that stretching the muscles before they’re warmed up can actually hurt them.
When everything is cold, the fibers aren’t prepared and may be damaged. If you exercise first, you’ll get blood flow to the area, and that makes the tissue more pliable and amenable to change. All it takes to warm up the muscles before stretching is five to 10 minutes of light activity, such as a quick walk. You can also stretch after an aerobic or weight-training workout.
Hold a stretch for 30 seconds. Don’t bounce, which can cause injury. You’ll feel tension during a stretch, but you should not feel pain. If you do, there may be an injury or damage in the tissue. Stop stretching that muscle, and consult one of our OHP Kelowna physiotherapists.