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Stretching

At A Glance

  • Stretching attempts to elongate an injured muscle or an under-used muscle back into a more neutral position that improves function.
  • Everyone should learn a basic self-stretching program for all muscles involving the spine and extremities, and practice it every day.
  • Aging deteriorates functioning muscles, and if left alone will ultimately affect your joints, change your posture, and severely limit what you can do. The back and neck are often affected.
  • Stretching treats Sprains and Strains.

 

As many athletes and physically active people know, stretching can be an integral part of overall health maintenance. The objective of stretching is to either prepare a muscle or group of muscles for exercise, or to elongate a cramped or chronically shortened muscle, often called a tight muscle.

All of the muscles in the body can lengthen or shorten depending on the activity or function required. When we are at rest, our muscles seek a neutral position. From that position contraction or lengthening can occur. This is what causes our joints to move and how we perform any activity in a normal sense.

If a muscle injury occurs, or if the muscle has not been used vigorously for some time, it has the tendency to shorten or cramp. If left in this position, it will become painful, swollen, feel like it is tied in a knot, and can also affect joint function and range of motion. Atrophy or muscle wasting away can also occur.

Stretching attempts to elongate the muscle back into a more neutral position to improve function. Exercising a chronically cramped muscle or a muscle in spasms can cause further injury by pulling the muscle apart and tearing its fibers.

Stretching helps to prepare the muscle for both normal activity and exercise. It can be done actively or passively, as when a trainer stretches an athlete.

Stretching becomes more important with age. With time, muscle function can deteriorate, and if left alone, these changes will ultimately affect joints and posture, and severely limit physical function. It also contributes significantly to pain, especially in our back and necks.

As a follow-up to injury or surgery, stretching can promote better range of motion, healing of damaged tissue, increased strength, increased endurance, and improved circulation and elimination of toxic chemicals.

Everyone should learn a basic self-stretching program for all muscles involving the spine and limbs every day. And of course, stretching should be performed before any exercise program or recreational sports activity to prepare our muscles and joints to function properly.

Yoga is an advanced form of stretching and maintaining range of motion and strength that can be good for all ages. Gyrotonic is another effective form of stretching but must be performed with a certified instructor. Comprehensive information on stretching is available online, in bookstores and on instruction videos, including how to initiate a personalized program. Athletic trainers and physical therapists can also provide skilled instruction.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

How does stretching help ease pain?
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