The Importance of Stretching
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 can also help avoid muscle spasms, and stretching neck muscles can even reduce headaches. There are a multitude of benefits to stretching, but let’s focus on the three main benefits:
- Injury Prevention
Injury to a muscle can occur when too much strain is placed on the muscle. 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 5-10 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 is often forgotten, though is also important and helps maintain flexibility and prevents muscle tightening. Do a cool down routine for about 5 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 is also 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 is often 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, trusted Rehabilitation Department.
Kelly Watson, PTA, is a physical therapist assistant in the Jersey Shore Hospital Rehabilitation Department. Kelly may be reached by calling 570-398-3111.