Stretching, Mobility and Injury Prevention

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What is stretching?

Stretching is defined as straightening or extending one’s body or part of one’s body to its full length as if to reach something.

There are several types of stretching;

  • Ballistic stretching – This uses the momentum of a limb or moving body in an attempt to force it beyond its usual range of motion. This is stretching like a spring or bouncing in to or out of a stretched position.
  • Dynamic stretching – Some examples of dynamic warm up stretching are lunge with a twist, knee to chest, the push-ups, high kicks and hip stretch with a twist.
  • Active stretching – Active stretching stimulates and prepares muscle for use during exercise. Here you assume a position and then hold it there with no assistance other than using the strength of your agonist muscles (actively contracting muscles).
  • Passive stretching – Here you are relaxed and make no contribution to the range of motion. Instead an external force is created by an outside agent either mechanically or manually.

static stretching
  • Static stretching – You stretch to the farthest point and hold that stretch. Static stretching involves holding a position.
  • Isometric stretching – It is a form of static stretching which involves the resistance of muscle groups through tensing of stretched muscles. Ex: Push against a wall and stretch
  • PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) stretching – This is an advanced form of flexibility training and is the most effective type of stretch to increase range of motion. This involves both the stretching and contracting of the targeted muscle group.

What are the benefits of stretching?

For many people whose main concern is exercising, stretching may not be a priority. However, stretching is found to give you many benefits.

Stretching

helps to improve flexibility. When you have better flexibility, your performance will improve in physical activities. Flexibility decreases your risk for injuries. Stretching enables your muscles to work effectively. Stretching before exercise reduces muscle spasms. Stretching after exercise reduces soreness of your muscles. By increasing blood flow to the muscles, stretching helps to maintain strong and healthy muscles which improves performance. Stretching improves the range of motion of your joints. It helps your joints to move through their maximum range of motion.

What should you know about stretching?

Stretching should be incorporated before and after your exercise routine. However some research has shown that stretching prior to intense exercise like sprinting, can actually decrease performance. Research has also shown that stretching just before an event may weaken the strength of your hamstring muscles. In these instances, warming up by doing the same movements similar to those in your physical activity at a lower level and gradually increasing the intensity and speed will be more helpful than stretching. Do regular stretching to gain more benefits. Make sure you stretch regularly, at least 2 to 3 times a week. Don’t consider it as a waste of time. If you stop stretching after a period of regular stretching, the benefits you gained will be lost with time. Ex: If your range of motion increased by regular stretching, it will reduce again once you stop stretching.

Learn to stretch correctly and effectively. Do it safe and learn the proper technique from a physical trainer. You can stretch anywhere and anytime as long as you do it properly. If you do not stretch correctly, there can be more risks than benefits such as muscle tears and soreness. Make sure you do a bit of walking or jogging slowly for a few minutes and warm up your muscles before stretching. If you stretch cold muscles hard, it might hurt you. Stretching after your work out is better and helpful because your muscles are warm and injury to muscles will be minimal. Make sure you stretch both sides of your body equally. This will improve flexibility of both sides similarly and injuries will be less. When you stretch, concentrate on all major muscle groups. Make sure you stretch your neck, shoulders, lower back, hips, thighs and calves equally on both sides. It will be more helpful to stretch muscle groups which are involved in your sport, more than the other muscle groups. Ex: In soccer your hamstrings are prone to get strains. Therefore consider stretching your hamstrings more before and after your game. Breathe normally while you stretch. Avoid bouncing while stretching as it can injure your muscles and lead to tightness afterwards. Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds as this type of stretching is very effective for healthy muscles and improvement of function. If you get pain while you stretch, it means you have stretched beyond your limit. Get back to the position where it doesn’t hurt and hold there. While stretching you should feel a tension but not pain. If you have congenital physical deformities like scoliosis or kyphosis, a chronic condition or a recent injury, your stretching techniques should be adjusted accordingly. Get help from a physical trainer to learn the most suitable stretching technique for you. Otherwise it can injure you more, strain your muscles and cause more harm than good. Limitations for each person are different. Just because your friend can stretch more than you and has better flexibility does not mean that you should be disheartened. Each person has different potentials and reaches their goals at different times and levels. Stretching doesn’t mean that you are being prevented from injury. Sometimes stretching per se can lead to over use injury. If you have health concerns, consult a physiotherapist and find the best methods of stretching and their limitations and make sure that your routine is tailor made for you.

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