Stretch into spring to prevent injuries |

Stretch into spring to prevent injuries

Getting an adult to perform a stretching program can sometimes be as difficult as getting a child to eat all their vegetables. I find that gym-goers and athletes easily commit to strengthening, cardiovascular training and core stabilization but all-too-often skip out on stretching. Hopefully a better understanding of the benefits and techniques of stretching will motivate you to start a flexibility program of your own.

Traditionally static stretching has long been the top choice. Static stretching involves no movement. It is performed by holding a muscle in a lengthened position. Most of us first learned static stretching during the days of elementary and middle school gym class. It used to be thought as the best way to warm up for sport. However, research is moving towards dynamic stretching as the popular pick prior to play.

Dynamic stretching involves movement. According to an article published by Jones and Mann in the “Strength and Conditioning Journal,” “Dynamic stretching consists of functional based exercises, which use sports-specific movements to prepare the body for activity.” Examples of dynamic stretching include controlled leg swings, arm swings and torso twists. The thought is that performing an active warm-up that mimics the sport you about to participate in will prepare the body more appropriately. Based on the current research, if you were to go for a run it would be recommended that you perform a low-intensity cardiovascular warm-up, followed by dynamic stretching before your run and static stretching after your run.

Ballistic stretching is another type that involves jerking movements in and out of the stretch. An example would be leaning forward from the waist and bouncing up and down vigorously to touch your toes. Experts agree that ballistic stretching can be dangerous and can cause damage to the tissue.

Stretching is an effective way to improve muscle and joint flexibility and tissue health. Flexible joints and muscles allow for easier movement during daily activities and sport. They are also less likely to be injured. Tight muscles can inhibit range of motion making it difficult for the body to move properly. They can also disrupt proper alignment which adds stress to the body. By maintaining flexibility it is easier to keep the body in better alignment and improve posture.

Stretching improves circulation by bringing blood flow to your muscles and joints. This will help bring nutrients into the area and remove toxins and wastes. Tight muscles can develop from stress that we put on ourselves during daily activities, work and recreation. We can also carry stress in our bodies that we are experiencing in our lives. Stretching can relax tense muscles relieving aches and pains. It can also reduce stress. I find that stretching is great for both physical and mental health.

Warm muscles respond better to stretching. My favorite field hockey coach used to say, “Muscles are like mozzarella cheese. If you stretch cold mozzarella it will snap but if you warm it up it stretches easily.” Warm up with a low intensity activity such as walking or cycling for five to ten minutes prior to stretching. You can also stretch after you exercise when your muscles are warm.

When choosing which muscles to stretch make sure to include major muscle groups. Also focus on muscles that you have been using for a particular sport or that you know tend to be tight. For example, a tennis player might include stretches for the elbow, forearm and wrist. An office worker who spends the day at a desk would want to incorporate stretches to counter the effects of sitting for extended periods of time.

A study published by Bandy and Irion in the “Physical Therapy Journal” examined the most effective duration to hold a stretch. The authors compared the effects of stretching for 15, 30 and 60 seconds, respectively, and no stretching. Participants stretched five days per week for six weeks. The results determined that 30 seconds was effective to enhance flexibility. Whereas 15 seconds did not have a significant effect and 60 seconds showed no added benefit. Stretching a muscle 3 times for 30 seconds is a good guideline. However, the research is not black and white. The optimal time may vary with different muscle groups and with injury. So, it is OK to hold a stretch longer or to do additional sets if it feels good to you.

When you perform a stretch it should be gentle and pain-free. You should feel a slight pull in the muscle. If you are experiencing pain, back off of the stretch. You should avoid bouncing at the end of the stretch which can cause the muscle to contract and risk damaging the muscle. Finally, focus on your breathing to help you relax and have fun.

Now that you know the basics of stretching, I hope you make an effort to incorporate a flexibility routine into your life and start feeling the benefits for yourself.

Michelle Snyder is a physical therapist at Emerald Bay Physical Therapy, 812 Emerald Bay Road. She can be reached at (530) 542-2662 or

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