Did you ever wonder what happens when you stretch your muscles with the goal of increasing your flexibility and decreasing the painful joint stiffness you might be experiencing? Did you ever wonder what the benefits of stretching your muscles are? Without stretching, your muscles will shorten and become tight, limiting the range of motion in your joints. If that happens, your muscles and joints become more painful and weaker because there is decreased room for the muscles to contract and create the power needed to move and lift objects. Stretching, allows for increased range of motion, allowing the joint to open, increasing the space between the bones (which decreases the pain) and allowing the muscle to contract moving from an elongated position to a shorter position creating the power needed to move and lift.
Now one question many clients ask me, will stretching increase my risk of muscle injury? They may have read somewhere that stretching is dangerous and can cause damage to their muscles. In reply I ask how do you feel after you stretch and they always answer that they feel less pain, less stiffness. Okay, so now that we have established that stretching is supportive there are some important things to remember when stretching. I like to think of our muscles as a rubber band. If you take a rubber band and gently stretch it out, over time, it will lengthen a little bit. If on the other hand you violently pull the rubber band, SNAP!! It will break. Your muscles are similar. If you gently stretch at the end of your own personal range of motion wherever that may be, over time, the muscle will be elongated and you will have gained increased flexibility. If on the other hand you go for a violent bouncing stretch at the end range of motion, you run the risk of pulling or tearing the muscle which will increase pain, inflammation and decrease the strength of the muscle. I encourage clients to stretch a muscle for 1 minute. This can be done by holding a stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeating the stretch 2-3 times alternating between each side to give the stretched side a break. If you are unable to hold the stretch for 20 seconds then hold it for 10 and repeat the stretch 6 times. NEVER stretch into pain. Go only till you feel a comfortable pull. If you are short on time and can only stretch for 20 seconds that is better than not stretching at all. Stretching more often (say 5 times a day) and for up to a minute will allow the muscle to lengthen more quickly. For those interested in general health, stretching after you have done some cardiovascular exercise is a great time to stretch as muscles that are warmer will be more flexibility and allow for increased length.