While there are many different factors that impact health, fitness, and recovery, stretching is one important component that is often forgotten. As a competitive gymnast for over 10 years, I have learned certain factors that can have a dramatic effect on performance, pain, and overall functional mobility – and the importance of stretching can never be over-emphasized. No matter who you are, or what types of activities you perform in everyday life, stretching your body is worthwhile.
Some common benefits of stretching include:
- Increased range of motion
- Decreased risk of structural deformities that are preventable but result from restricted movement
- Less muscle weakness due to shortened tissue or muscular imbalance
- Decreased risk of musculoskeletal injuries
- Reduced muscle soreness
Ultimately, all of these benefits of stretching lead to a decreased risk for falls and an increase in functional mobility.
There are many different ways a person can stretch, and the decision on how to stretch should be made based on the goals, abilities, and skills of the person stretching. Two commonly used methods include dynamic stretching and static stretching. Before deciding between the two, it is important to understand the qualities of muscle fibers and the effects of each type of stretching.
Elasticity and plasticity are both important qualities of muscle fibers. Elasticity is the ability of tissue components to stretch past their normal length, and then quickly return to their pre-stretched length. This happens when you perform tasks such as throwing a ball, jumping, brushing your hair, or reaching into the top cabinet in the kitchen. Dynamic stretches, which involve rhythmic movements, are generally most useful for improving elasticity. Plasticity is the ability of the tissue components to adapt over time and become longer than their original, pre-stretched length in a more permanent manner. Static stretches, which require holding a stretch for a prolonged period of time, are more useful for this.
Static stretching is often important for those who are sitting for extended periods of time, such as at a desk job. Dynamic stretching is usually designed with a specific activity in mind and is often accepted as an appropriate warm-up routine for many athletic activities or sports. While both types of stretching have their individual purposes, the most successful stretching program will involve both. If you think you would benefit from a stretching program that is tailored to your specific goals, abilities, and skills, please feel free to contact your local Foothills Sports Medicine AZ physical therapy clinic for more information!
There are some instances in which stretching would not be beneficial to your body – for example, if you have recent fractures, strains, or sprains, severe osteoporosis, sharp pain with lengthening of tissues or joint movement, hematoma, hypermobility, or situations in which the shortened tissues provide necessary stability. However, for the majority of people, stretching is helpful. (If you’re not sure if stretching would benefit you, a physical therapist can help determine which stretches your body needs.)