Stretching is essential to improving range of motion and keeping the body flexible. A flexible body has the ability to perform movements more efficiently, which helps avoid injury.
Proper stretching helps lengthen muscles, which can lead to better posture. Stretching also improves blood flow and water and nutrient circulation throughout the body. Better circulation is known to slow the aging process.
Stretching muscles also can help avoid muscle spasms, and stretching neck muscles even can reduce headaches. There are a multitude of benefits to stretching, but let's focus on the three main benefits:
Injury to a muscle can occur when too much strain is placed on it. The risk can be greater with a muscle that is not healthy and flexible, leading to a tear beyond an easily repairable level.
Stretching "warm" muscles is ideal; you should warm up for five or 10 minutes by doing some light exercises and then stretch. By stretching just after your warm-up routine, you improve your range of motion, so during your activities muscles are less likely to be strained beyond their normal capabilities, so the risk of injury will be less.
Injuries cause setbacks. Setbacks to any person, especially an overly active person, are costly. Injuries not only hinder sports participation, training and activities, they also affect us in the work place and in everyday life.
Stretching will increase your body's flexibility, resulting in improved ability to perform difficult movements more efficiently and with less stress and risk of injury.
The focus of stretching is to achieve muscle elongation. Muscles become slightly longer and thinner when properly stretched. Muscle fibers tear slightly, allowing them to become longer than they were before they were stretched. Our body repairs these small tears with new muscle fibers.
Stretching after activities often is forgotten, though it also is important and helps maintain flexibility and prevents muscle tightening. Do a cool-down routine for about five to 10 minutes, consisting of your warm-up stretches.
When you stretch, you stimulate your muscles to heal with new muscle fibers. Stretched muscles have increased circulation (blood flow), which is a very important factor to getting your muscles the nutrients they need to rebuild and recover. Athletes in tip-top shape recover quickest because of their efficient circulation.
Now that you know the three main benefits to stretching, it also is important to keep in mind when not to stretch. Stretching should be avoided:
Following a ligament sprain
When sharp pains are present in joints and muscles
During joint or muscle infections
After a recent fracture
Stretching often is forgotten or avoided, but it is a key factor in preventing injuries, increasing flexibility and improving circulation. It takes only a few minutes and just a little bit of effort to obtain its many benefits.
For more information on proper stretching techniques, contact a skilled and trusted rehabilitation department.
Watson is a physical therapist assistant in the Jersey Shore Hospital Rehabilitation Department and may be reached by calling 398-3111.