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The Benefits of Stretching for Flexibility and Mobility

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

Stretching is a physical exercise that plays a crucial role in enhancing flexibility, improving mobility, and preventing injuries. By putting a body part in a certain position that lengthens and elongates the muscle or muscle group, stretching enhances flexibility and elasticity. It is a widely recommended practice for individuals of all ages and fitness levels. Lengthening the muscle trains the tissue to properly absorb forces that otherwise will cause injury to tendon, joints and bone.

Effects of Stretching

There are numerous benefits of stretching for flexibility and mobility that contribute to overall physical well-being and performance in physical activities. The following are some of the key effects of incorporating stretching into your routine:

  • Improves flexibility and delays impaired mobility associated with aging:

  • Regular stretching helps to maintain and improve flexibility, which is essential for maintaining a full range of motion in the joints. As we age, our muscles and connective tissues naturally become stiffer, making stretching even more important to prevent impaired mobility.

  • Enhances performance in physical activities:

  • Improved flexibility from stretching can lead to better performance in various physical activities, such as sports, dance, and gymnastics. Increased range of motion allows for more fluid and efficient movements, which can result in improved speed, agility, and coordination.

  • Reduces the risk of injury and damage:

  • Stretching helps to prepare the muscles and connective tissues for physical activity, reducing the risk of strains, sprains, and other injuries. It promotes proper alignment and balance, which can prevent falls and accidents.

  • Improves blood circulation and reduces muscle soreness:

  • Stretching increases blood flow to the muscles, improving circulation and delivering essential nutrients and oxygen. This can help to reduce muscle soreness and speed up the recovery process after intense exercise.

  • Increases the range of motion:

  • Stretching not only improves flexibility but also increases the range of motion in the joints. This can be beneficial for individuals with limited mobility or those recovering from injuries or surgeries. Maintaining a full ROM of a joint will help to prevent arthritic conditions.

Types of Stretching

There are three main types of stretching, each with its own benefits and recommended uses:

Static Stretching:

  • Static stretching involves holding a stretch in a stationary position for a prolonged period, usually around 30 seconds. This type of stretching is done passively and may contribute to muscle fatigue if overstretched. This type of stretching should never be performed prior to warming up the muscle and should never be applied to an injured muscle as the stresses of passive stretching are transferred to the weakest and most vulnerable point, the point of injury.

Dynamic Stretching:

  • Dynamic stretching involves moving the muscles and joints through a full range of motion in a controlled and deliberate manner. It is typically performed before physical activities to warm up the muscles, increase blood flow, and improve flexibility. Dynamic stretching helps to improve neuromuscular control, elevate core body temperature, and enhance performance measures such as speed and strength.

Pre-contraction Stretching:

  • Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Stretching (PNFS): Pre-contraction stretching, also known as PNF stretching, combines stretching and muscle contraction to achieve greater flexibility and muscle relaxation. It involves contracting the muscle being stretched for a few seconds before relaxing and then stretching it further. PNF stretching can be performed in various ways, such as the contract-relax method and hold-relax method, and is often used in rehabilitation settings to improve muscle tone and range of motion.

Active Isolated Stretching:

  • Related to Dynamic Stretching, this method of muscle lengthening and fascial release provides the most effective facilitated stretching of major muscle groups. Most importantly, it enhances the functional restoration of muscle. In Layman's terms, it maximizes effectiveness of stretching without causing discomfort. It incorporates reciprocal inhibition (our bodies natural response to contraction/relaxation of muscle) to achieve optimal flexibility.

Frequency and Duration of Stretching

The frequency and duration of stretching depend on individual goals and specific needs. Here are some general recommendations:

  • Active Isolated Stretching is performed for a hold of 2 seconds in the stretched position to maximize the benefits of reciprocal inhibition. Generally 1-2 sets of 10 repetitions are performed pre and post exercise. This technique can be performed any time throughout the day.

It is important to note that stretching should be done in a pain-free manner. If you experience sharp pain or discomfort during a stretch, it is best to stop and consult with a healthcare professional.

Mechanisms of Stretching

Understanding the mechanisms behind stretching can provide insights into how it affects the body and why it is beneficial. When a muscle is stretched, the sarcomeres, which are the basic units of contraction in muscle fibers, lengthen. This elongation of muscle fibers allows for an increase in range of motion. So, we use the term “stretch” loosely. Technically a muscle can’t stretch, but it lengthens by sliding open.

As the muscle fibers lengthen, the area of overlap between the thick and thin myofilaments increases. Conversely, when the muscle contracts, this area of overlap decreases. Stretching also places force on the surrounding connective tissue, causing the collagen fibers to align along the line of tension. This realignment can help rehabilitate scarred tissue and improve overall muscle function.

Stretching also involves proprioceptors, which are sensory receptors located in the tendons and muscle fibers. Muscle spindles and Golgi tendon organs are two types of proprioceptors that play a role in stretching. Muscle spindles detect changes in muscle length and speed of stretch, while Golgi tendon organs respond to changes in tension in the tendons. These proprioceptors contribute to the stretch reflex, which triggers muscle contractions to resist changes in muscle length which prevents injury.

It is worth noting that while stretching has many benefits, there is conflicting evidence regarding its effectiveness for certain conditions, such as contractures. However, stretching is widely recommended by healthcare and fitness professionals as part of treatment plans for various injuries and rehabilitation programs.

Stretching is a valuable exercise technique that promotes flexibility, enhances mobility, improves performance, and reduces the risk of injuries. By incorporating different types of stretching into your routine and considering the determinants of stretching, you can maximize the benefits and ensure safe and effective stretching sessions. Contact Performance Care Stretch Clinic for a plan specific to your needs.

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