Stretching can help for a variety of problems such as assisting recovery from sporting injuries as well as easing symptoms of osteoarthritis.
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 more 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 stretching 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 on stretching before an intense activity, such as sprinting or track and field activities. Some research suggests that pre-event stretching before these types of events may actually decrease performance.
- 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. When you’re stretching, 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 while you’re stretching, 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 up with your stretching. Stretching 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.
You can also use foam rollers to help release tight muscles (see below). By using your own body weight, you can perform self massage, boost the circulation and increase the blood flow to the area, which in turn mobilises the fascia (soft tissue) and allows a more effective stretch.