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:
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.
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
Stretching Guidelines: How to Stretch?
When to Stretch?
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:
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, 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.
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.