One of the most important ways to avoid injury and to promote overall health is to begin stretching. Stretching is recommended for everyone, whether you are active or not.
Unfortunately, as we age, our muscles become shorter—this increases the need to stretch on a regular basis.
When we stretch, we are realigning and lengthening the fibres within the muscle. Stretching improves our range of motion, promotes muscle balance, prepares our body for activity, helps our body recover from activity, decreases joint stresses/compression and minimizes unwanted muscle tightness and knots.
Stretching also promotes circulation and develops body awareness. It enhances performance by improving overall speed, balance, endurance, agility, and strength. And studies have shown that stretching will lead to quicker muscle toning.
Stretching before an activity or a workout is important, but stretching after the activity is more beneficial and crucial. Prior to the activity, gently stretch the muscles that are going to be used. Do not overstretch as this can lead to a less responsive muscle that is more prone to injury.
Stretches after exercise should be held for 20 to 30 seconds and repeated two to three times each. The stretch should feel strong and uncomfortable, but not painful. No bouncing, as this triggers a reflex that causes the muscle to tighten and work against you.
Ideally, you should be stretching daily and performing additional, activity specific stretches before and after exercising.
Stretches feel better and are more effective if your muscles are ‘warm’ prior to stretching. Just moving around is usually enough to get the blood pumping and the muscles warmed and prepared for activity.
If you just woke up, or got out of a car after an hour drive you are likely not warmed up enough. Just move around for a bit before you break into your stretching routine.
If you have an injury, dysfunction or problem, your physiotherapist can develop a stretching routine that is specific for you and your condition.
An assessment by your physiotherapist will usually reveal what muscles need to be stretched and focused on.
Robina Palmer is a registered physiotherapist and co-owner of Sun City Physiotherapy. She can be contacted at the downtown St. Paul Street location at 250-861-8056 or firstname.lastname@example.org.