We all know that physical activity, especially regular exercise, is important in maintaining overall health and fitness. But did you know that stretching can be just as beneficial to your wellbeing? Studies show that stretching can help improve your range of motion while, at the same time, reduce your risk of orthopedic injury.
If you think stretching is something only runners, gymnasts, and other athletes routinely perform, think again. Everyone should be stretching to maintain their mobility and musculoskeletal health.
Let’s examine the many other positive effects of stretching and how you can make the most of this simple yet effective form of physical therapy.
The Benefits of Stretching
First and foremost, stretching helps to keep your muscles flexible, strong, and healthy. In turn, it also leads to improved range of motion of your joints. As such, enhanced flexibility may result in:
- Improved physical performance
- The ability to move your joints through their full range of motion
- Increased blood flow that enables your muscles to work most effectively
- Improvement in your ability to perform daily activities
Without the effects of stretching, your muscles shorten and become tense, so when you use them for an activity, they are weaker and unable to extend fully. That makes you more susceptible to joint pain, strains, and muscle damage. Healthy muscles also enable you to maintain your balance and avoid falls.
How and When to Stretch
Any time you stretch, it is important to do it safely and effectively. Otherwise, you may do more harm to your joints and muscles than good. Here are some tips on proper stretching techniques:
- Do not stretch before an intense athletic activity. Studies show that stretching just before an event weakens hamstring strength and can decrease performance.
- Warm up before you stretch.First, do some light walking, jogging, or biking at a low intensity for several minutes. Otherwise, you may aggravate cold muscles.
- Stretch when you’ve completed a workout and your muscles are warm.
- Focus your stretching on major muscle groups.These include your calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck, and shoulders. In addition, stretch muscles and joints that you frequently use or that you apply during your normal activities. Just make sure you stretch both sides of your body.
- Stretch in a smooth movement. Avoid bouncing as you stretch, as this can injure a muscle and cause muscle tightness.
- Breathe as you normally would and hold each stretch for about 30 seconds.
- Avoid pain.Feeling tension is normal when stretching, but not discomfort. If a stretch hurts, refrain to a point where it isn’t painful and hold the stretch.
- Be consistent with your stretching.You’ll experience the most benefits by stretching on a regular basis– at least twice or three times per week. Skipping your stretching will only deprive you of its potential benefits.
- Consider incorporating gentle movement exercises with your stretching.Tai chi, Pilates, or yoga can improve your flexibility and help reduce falls in older adults.
- Adjust your stretching techniques if you have a chronic condition or injury. Exercise caution if you already have a strained muscle or joint problem. Before you start, speak with your doctor or physical therapist about the most appropriate stretching exercises for your situation.
Sports Medicine Physician in Naples, Florida
At Joint Replacement Institute in Naples, Florida, our sports medicine providers are specially trained in treating injuries, restoring function, optimizing athletic performance, and preventing future injury. That includes advising you on proper stretching techniques and providing other orthopedic care.
Whatever sport or activity you engage in, orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist Dr. Brian Wallace can help you heal or prevent injury. So, call us at (239) 261-2663 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Wallace. Or you can request a consultation by using our convenient online form. Either way, we look forward to seeing you.