Stretching: How to get the most out of your stretches
Stretching has been something that most people have been told or felt like they need to do more of. Whether it is to improve flexibility, reduce risk of injury, or reduce pain stretching always takes a bit of time to do and can feel like sometimes it helps and sometimes doesn’t seem to do much. This is because stretching must be done properly and the type of stretch needs to match what you want to get out of it.
If you want to focus on your flexibility static stretching or PNF stretching (proprioceptive neuromuscular facitilation) is best. Static stretching involves holding a stretch for at least 30 seconds without movement; this allows time for the muscle to relax and to work on increasing its length. PNF stretching involves pushing against the stretch force by contracting the muscle you are stretching for 5 seconds without actually moving out of the stretch then relaxing and going deeper into the stretch. For example have someone help push your leg forwards towards your chest as you lie on the ground, then gently resist their force without moving, followed by relaxing and letting them bring your leg higher up afterwards. You can do this a few times in a row to maximize PNF stretching. Ideally doing static or PNF stretching for 2-3 sets every day will help increase your flexibility in the long term. Realistically it takes a long time to build up your flexibility; you will see small improvements after a month of daily stretching, so it takes a period of months to years to build up your muscle and joint flexibility to a significant level. This is why gymnasts and dancers train for years to build up their flexibility to impressive levels. Interestingly, static stretching can reduce muscle power for a short period of time after stretching, so it is recommended that you do it after active exercise or as part of a cool down.
If you want to reduce your chance of injury during exercise and when playing sports dynamic stretching is best. It involves moving your joints and muscles through their full range of movement without stopping and holding. An example of this would be performing leg swings or trunk rotations side to side repeatedly, this helps get blood flowing to the muscles and joints. It also primes the muscle so that it can contract and relax optimally, which helps reduce your chance of injury and maximize performance. Ideally you need to perform around 20 repetitions of a dynamic stretch targeting each major muscle group you are wishing to warm up.
Stretching to reduce pain is best achieved using self myofascial release stretches. An example of this includes using a foam roller, massage ball or some form focused point of contact to release muscle tension and provide pain relief. Doing this mimics hands on massage and means you can be very specific and focus on releasing ‘muscle knots’ that contribute to pain in that area of the body. It also works by stimulating blood flow and nutrients to muscle knots to get the muscle fibers in that area to function normally again. This is performed best by rolling slowly over tender muscles and pausing on extra sore points for up to 30 seconds at a time. Pain should not be intense and should ease after holding on an area over 30 seconds.
All the types of stretching mentioned above will improve flexibility, reduce chance of injury and reduce pain to varying degrees when done appropriately. They all stimulate blood flow to the muscle and help reduce muscle tension generally, however, your stretching goals and the context you are using your stretches in will ultimately guide which stretches you should do and how you will perform them.
If you have more questions about how stretching can help with injury that you are struggling with or even prevent future injuries book in with one of our physiotherapists either online through the booking link or call 8065 1970.
Physio Room Pymble