Should I Stretch?
A common question we get asked as Osteopaths is should I be stretching? If so, how often should I stretch? How long should I hold a stretch? What kind of stretching is most effective? The list of questions goes on. The truth is, the answer changes from case to case and injury to injury. So today I will cover some different aspects of stretching and when it may be most effective.
Stretching a muscle can be achieved statically or dynamically, ie, either holding a stretch in a position for a period of time or gently moving through a stretch position. Both can be beneficial. Static stretching is often performed after a period of exercise, which may help with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This is the soreness you experience are an intense bout of physical exercise. Dynamic stretching is often done before exercise, so this may warm up the muscles and joints for movement before exercise has begun.
Studies have shown that static stretching should be held for up to 30 seconds for a benefit to be seen and dynamic stretching can used for up to 10-15 reps for a benefit to be seen.
Frequency of stretching can be both morning and night, in addition to stretching before and after exercise. Although these variables will change depending on body type and the exercise you engage in, as well as underlying injury, pathology and reasons for stretching in the first place!
Being aware of your body type, ie, how you best respond to movement, stretching and exercise can be an important factor in your stretching or rehabilitation program. For example, a person who already has a large range of joint motion (hyper-mobile body) would not benefit as much from stretching. In fact they would most likely benefit from strengthening exercises instead. This is because they are already quite inherently flexible in their joints and overstretching the muscles that support the joints can cause further instability and pain.
A balance between flexibility and strength must be maintained for optimal performance. In contrast a stiff and immobile body would benefit from stretching regularly multiple times a day in addition to regular strength exercises. A hyper-mobile person may be a ballet dancer or an underlying joint and muscle condition, and the immobile person may be the bodybuilder who regularly lifts weights or has arthritis.
Another common question we are asked is “Can I over stretch?” The answer is yes you can! Too much pliability and flexibility can be detrimental if you do not have an even balance of strength and control of that flexibility.
Should I be stretching if I am injured?
This answer is dependent on each individual case. For example, a recently strained hamstring muscle would not benefit from stretching. Stretching the strained hamstring may aggravate the tear that needs some time to heal first. After a period of time you will be able to stretch the injured muscle again with correct guidance on how to o it properly without causing re-aggravation. In contrast, a disc injury or facet joint sprain in the lower back may get some relief from stretching the gluteal (bottom) muscles and or hip flexor muscles as it may decrease pressure on the lower back. Having the correct advice in your stretching regime on how to perform stretches and what stretches to perform will enhance your recovery!
Here is an example of how to perform a hamstring stretch at home.
- Raise a leg directly in front your body on a bench or chair at roughly the height of your opposite knee.
- Keep the leg you raised slightly bent at the knee and keep your foot relaxed.
- From this position bend forwards from the hips keeping your lower back nice and straight.
- You may only need to move 3-4 inches forward to start to feel a stretch.
- Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and keep breathing while you stretch!!
- To modify the stretch:
- you can then alternate where you position your hip and foot.
- you could turn your hip inwards or outwards to start to feel a stretch in different parts of the hamstring.
- You could tilt your pelvis forwards or backwards which will change where you may feel the position of the stretch
- You could try and bend or straighten your knee which will also change the position of where you feel the stretch in the hamstring
- Repeat on the other leg
- If at any time you feel unsafe, experience pain rather than stretch or unbalanced please stop and seek further advice on how to stretch.
So as you can see, stretching is variable and its application is applied on a case by case basis. If you would like more information or specific stretches for an injury, such as lower back pain, neck pain and muscle strains, sciatica, sports injury or tendonitis, St Kilda Osteopathy will be able to help you with expert advice in assessment, treatment, management and rehabilitation for your pain and injury.
Written by Dr Steve Resic (Osteopath)
Categories: General Information