Running can predispose us to various injuries. The most common of which are: ITB Syndrome, Achilles Tendonitis, Shin splints and knee pain. If you come to physiotherapy for any of the above problems, it is very likely that as part of your home exercise program you will be given some stretching to do.
Studies about the benefits of a good stretch have had mixed results. Some show that it helps. Other studies show that before or after exercise has little if any benefit and doesn’t reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Whilst more research is needed, some benefits of are thought to be improving athletic performance and decreasing injury.
Stretching can help improve flexibility, and consequently, range of motion in your joints. Better flexibility may improve your performance in physical activities or decrease your risk of injuries by helping your joints move through their full range of motion and enabling your muscles to work most effectively.
Prolonged static postures, for example, sitting at a desk for long periods, can cause a reduction in mobility of some joints and muscles, so stretching is not something just to be performed by sports people.
- Don’t consider a stretch to be a warm-up. If participating in sports, try to warm up with light walking, jogging or biking at low intensity for 5 – 10 minutes. Or better yet, stretch after you exercise when your muscles are warmed up. Also, consider holding off before an intense activity, such as sprinting or track and field activities. Some research suggests that it may actually decrease performance pre-event.
- Strive for Symmetry. Everyone has different levels of flexibility. Be realistic about your own limitations and concentrate on having equal flexibility on both sides.
- Focus on major muscle groups. Focus on major muscle groups such as your calf, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders. Also stretch muscles and joints that you routinely use at work or play.
- Don’t bounce. Stretch in a smooth movement, without bouncing. Bouncing as you stretch can cause injury to your muscle.
- Hold your stretch. Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds; in problem areas, you may need to hold for around 60 seconds. Breathe normally as you stretch.
- Stretches should not cause pain. Expect to feel tension , not pain. If it hurts, you’ve pushed too far. Back off to the point where you don’t feel any pain, then hold the stretch.
- Make stretches specific. Evidence suggests that it’s helpful to do stretches tailored for your sport or activity.
- Keep it up. It can be time-consuming. But you can achieve the most benefits by stretching regularly, at least 2 – 3 times a week. If you don’t stretch regularly, you risk losing any benefits that stretching offers. For instance, if stretching helped you increase your range of motion, and you stop stretching, your range of motion may decrease again.
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