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Stretching Exercises

Stretching is a kind of physical exercise in which a specific muscle or tendon (or muscle group) along with other soft tissue structures around the joint (including joint capsule, ligaments etc.) are deliberately flexed or stretched in order to improve the muscle's felt elasticity and achieve comfortable muscle tone.


Stretching plays a very important role in the prevention of soft tissue injuries. It is common for athletes to stretch before and after exercise in order to reduce risk of injury and increase performance. If done incorrectly stretching can prove to be very harmful.

As with other forms of therapeutic exercise, such as strengthening exercises and endurance training, there are a number of essential elements that determine the effectiveness of stretching interventions. The elements (determinants) of stretching, all of which are interrelated, include alignment and stabilization of the body during stretching; the intensity (magnitude), duration, speed, frequency, and mode of stretch; and the integration of neuromuscular inhibition or facilitation and functional activities into stretching programs.

There are four broad categories of stretching exercises:

  • static stretching
  • cyclic stretching,
  • ballistic stretching,
  • Stretching techniques based on the principles of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation.

Each of these approaches to stretching can be carried out in various manners—that is, manually or mechanically, passively or actively, and by a therapist or independently by a patient—giving rise to many terms that are used in the literature to describe stretching interventions.

stretching
stretching

Static Stretching

Static stretching is a commonly used method of stretching in which soft tissues are elongated just past the point of tissue resistance and then held in the lengthened position with a sustained stretch force over a period of time. Other terms used interchangeably are sustained, maintained, or prolonged stretching. The duration of static stretch is predetermined prior to stretching or is based on the patient’s tolerance and response during the stretching procedure.

Benefits of Stretching
  1. Increased flexibility
  2. Flexibility allows us to accomplish everyday tasks of daily living such as bending over to tie our shoes, or reaching to put groceries away in a cupboard.
  3. Flexibility minimizes our risk of injury by allowing joints to move through their full range of motion without putting strain on ligaments or capsular structures.
  4. Flexibility allows for good circulation. This circulation is necessary to provide working muscles with nutrients and to allow for a speedy recovery following exercise.
  5. Flexibility allows you to maintain a good posture. Tight muscles will pull you into poor postures.
  6. Stretching exercises help muscles to relax, relieving tension.

Stretching Guidelines: How to Stretch?
  • The Right Way to Stretch is slow and relaxed.
  • When stretching, hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds.
  • Avoid bouncing or Stretching to the point of pain. This can actually cause you to pull the muscle you are trying to Stretch.
  • Breathe deeply to intensify the Stretch as you exhale.
  • Stretch two or three more times with each Stretch.
  • Try to Stretch a little further with each Stretch. Remember to do it only to the point of mild tension.
  • For any Stretch that involves bending your knees, make certain that your knee doesn't go beyond your toe. Otherwise, there's too much stress on the knee.

When to Stretch?
  • To maintain your Flexibility, Stretch at least three times a week.
  • You can Stretch anytime you feel like it (e.g. at your desk, waiting for a bus) and at various times of the day when you can.
  • Each Stretching Session should last for about 10 to 20 minutes.
  • To improve your performance and prevent injury, Stretch before doing some workout routines or playing a sport.
  • For all kinds of exercises, whether calisthenics or weight training, do the Stretches Before and After Workouts.
  • Avoid strenuous Stretching for one to two hours after eating.
  • During hot or humid days, do your Strenuous stretching early morning or evening, when it is cooler or less humid.
  • Don't Stretch a muscle that you've recently injured, unless your doctor gives you a go signal. Still, try to use supports like wrist and knee wraps.

How Long to Stretch?

If you are involved in a stretching program you are probably wondering how long to stretch.Factors that influence the ability to stretch the connective tissues in a muscle are as follows:

  • muscle fatigue
  • the presence of scar tissue
  • muscle temperature
  • activity prior to the stretch
  • collagen/elastic content (varies with age)
  • hydration/dehydration
  • medical conditions (diabetes, connective tissue disorders, smoking)
However here our focus will be on gentle static stretches where the stretches are to be done for a period of 20 to 30 secs and repetitions required are 5 to 7 in 2 to 3 sets.

Adjuncts to Stretching Interventions

Interventions that promote general or local relaxation can complement a stretching program. Therapists managing patients with impairments, including chronic pain, muscle guarding, or imbalances, and restricted mobility may find it useful to integrate relaxation exercises into a patient’s plan of care. Superficial or deep heat, massage, biofeedback, and joint traction also are useful adjuncts to stretching procedures.

Relaxation Training

Relaxation training, using methods of general relaxation (total body relaxation), have been used to help patients learn to relieve or reduce pain, muscle tension, anxiety or stress, and associated physical impairments including tension headaches, high blood pressure, and respiratory distress.

Common Elements of Relaxation Training

Relaxation training involves a reduction in muscle tension in the entire body or the region that is painful or restricted by conscious effort and thought. Training is done in a quiet environment with low lighting and soothing music or an auditory cue on which the patient may focus. The patient performs deep breathing exercises or visualizes a peaceful scene. When giving instructions the therapist uses a soft tone of voice.

Heat

Warming up prior to stretching is a common practice in rehabilitation and fitness programs. As intramuscular temperature increases the extensibility of contractile and non contractile soft tissues likewise increases. Also as the temperature of muscle increases, the amount of force required and the time the stretch force must be applied decreases.