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Home > General > Is stretching beneficial?

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Is stretching beneficial?

Stretching is a form of physical exercise in which a specific muscle is stretched by moving it away from the body to improve the muscle’s felt elasticity and regain comfortable muscle tone. It results in improvement of muscle control, flexibility and range of motion and usually reduction in pain.

In short, static stretching does not reduce soreness or risk of injury before and after exercises!
The general routine with most people when they decide to do any form of exercise is a quick 2 minute warm up which includes a static stretch of the hamstrings and sometimes the calves and off they go. A muscle when stretched in its not warmed-up stage can lead to reduction in its performance, strength and endurance. Also, stretching can be dangerous when performed incorrectly. Research and its systematic review indicate that, on average, “Individuals will show a reduction in less than 2mm on a 100mm scale during 72 hours after exercise. The combined risk reduction of injury is only 5% which shows that in general stretching may not meaningfully reduce the risk of injuries”. (ref: Herbert RD, Gabriel M. Effects of stretching before and after exercise on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review. BMJ. 2002;325:468).

Then why do we stretch? Well, there is some research out there to support stretching but it is based on the TYPE of stretch performed. There are many different techniques for stretching in general, but depending on which muscle group is being stretched, some techniques can be dangerous and cause permanent damage. Incorrect technique can cause damage to the ligaments, tendons and even joints leading to increased pain and even stiffness from the muscle going into protective spasm. Hence, it is helpful to be aware of the types and do’s and dont’s of stretching.

STATIC STRETCHING:

As the name suggests, static stretching involves holding a muscle at the stretched position for 20 -30 seconds.

  • Best done after your workouts.
  • Stretch the muscle up to a point you feel a slight discomfort but bearable stretch, hold this for a maximum of 30 sec and breathe through the stretch until you feel the muscle slowly letting go.
  • Research has shown to decrease strength and power if done immediately before weight training

ACTIVE STRETCHING:

Dynamic stretching is similar to active stretching with the main difference being, you do NOT HOLD the stretch. You are always moving or performing a dynamic or functional movement.

  • Dynamic stretching is not the best for improving flexibility. It mainly helps in improving function
  • Research has supported that this type of stretching increases acute muscle power much more than the other types
  • It is good way to warm up for your sport and has shown to improve performance

DYNAMIC STRETCHING:

Dynamic stretching is similar to active stretching with the main difference being, you do NOT HOLD the stretch. You are always moving or performing a dynamic or functional movement.

  • Dynamic stretching is not the best for improving flexibility. It mainly helps in improving function
  • Research has supported that this type of stretching increases acute muscle power much more than the other types
  • It is good way to warm up for your sport and has shown to improve performance

FUNCTIONAL STRETCHING:

Functional Stretching is the most updated type according to research. Most of the strength coaches and trainers use functional stretching to improve flexibility in their clients/athletes.

  • The theory of specificity says that strength, coordination, speed, & balance are highly specific to that movement. Functional stretching is based on the same theory. If you want to transfer the newly achieved range of movement into your functions/tasks, the stretching should be specific to that function.
  • eg: For ground based movements or tasks, like lifting, you perform the task a few times as a stretch.

SUMMARY AND TIPS FOR STRETCHING:

  • Do not stretch 1st thing in the morning when you get out of bed. Move around and do your morning chores for 30 mins and then stretch if you need to.
  • Pain whilst stretching should be a “stretch” pain and not “pain” pain.
  • Do not hold your breath while stretching.
  • Stretching is good before and/or after your physio exercises if tightness is restricting you from switching muscles on or actually performing the exercises.
  • Use static stretching after your activity/end of the day, if the muscle is really tight. Better to avoid static stretching before your workouts (gym/walk/sport). Instead perform Dynamic or Functional stretching, for example before starting any physical activities at work/school/sport.
  • Your physiotherapist can help you with what type of stretches are best for you at your next appointment.

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