How much should you be stretching?

Is stretching important or is it more a habit?

One of the most common things I hear in my clinic is when people come in with pain and say

“I know myself I should be stretching more”.

Stretching is often seen by a lot of the people as ‘the thing to do’ to prevent injury and avoid soreness the next day.

But this can be something more out of habit and because you see other people in the gym or on the pitch doing it, rather than actual necessity.

How often do you see someone making a very feeble attempt at throwing in a few stretches at the end of a workout, because they think it’s the right thing to do.

So let’s look at how important it really is..

So is it important to stretch?

First off, in this blog I’m going to be focusing on static stretching, as that is what the majority of people do. That is where you hold a stretched position for 20 – 30 seconds.

There other types like dynamic stretching and 3D stretching, both of which I really like and I go into more inside my Resources Section.

We need to define two words you often here associated with stretching  – flexibility and mobility.

Flexibilty is defined as the available Range of Motion in a joint or a particular movement.

Mobility is typically definied as the usuable range of motion available to an individual.

I’ll also refer to flexibility as Passive Range of Motion and mobility as Active Range of Motion .

Your Passive Range of Motion varies a lot with people and is often limited by the joint structure. and naturally decreases as we get older. To improve it you got to stretch quite a bit to get a lasting change in the tissue. (We’re talking 5 – 30 minutes very day for a few months)

Your Active Range should ideally be somewhat close to your passive range and it is limited by the influence of the nerves on the tissues.

If your Active Range of Movement is a long way off your Passive Range, then you will possibly need to improve this. (Why possibly – you will find out by reading on)

Your nerves can cause tension or restriction in a tissue if it feels it is not strong enough, if the muscle is long enough already or if it is holding some protective tone from a previous injury to the tissue or nearby tissue.

There are other reasons which you can read about here. 

When the majority of people stretch, they are trying to affect the tension that has been put in place by the nerves and this can be short-lived.

One of the reasons can be that the body does not feel stable, or secure enough in this position and it will cause the muscles to tense up again.

Ok, so should I spend time stretching?

As, this is what we hear to find out.

In my opinion, (which is based on looking at the evidence out there on stretching and from what I’ve learned from top lectures in this field) if you have enough flexibility in the required tissues to do the movements you need to do, then you don’t need to spend much time stretching them. 

For example, if you are a gym goer and you can get into a deep squat no problem, then why spend lots of time stretching the muscles to help you get into this position.

Another example is if you can bend down to the floor and touch the back of your hands off the floor while not letting your knees bend, then you don’t need to stretch your hamstrings any more. They have enough length already.

Time spent stretching them, could be better spent doing strength training, which has better evidence to back it up in regards to preventing injuries.

This is where an individual assessment from a therapist is an excellent way of identifying areas where you may need more mobility and areas where you already have enough mobility.

However, let’s not completely forget about stretching.

Stretching is still beneficial if:

  • You have injured yourself and you may have strained a muscle. While initially, it is not a good idea to stretch (as the muscle needs time to repair and heal), after healing has occurred you will then probably need to stretch this muscle to regain the movement you had before injury.
  • You are getting pain in a movement because of a lack of flexibility in a joint. Stretching the appropriate muscles here will be beneficial to improve the movement which will help reduce pain.
  • If you play a sport and have poor technique in a particular movement then stretching may be advisable to help improve your technique.
  • And lets not forget about dynamic stretching and 3D stretching as they have an important role in warm-ups and returning from injury

 And lastly, it can just feel good!

Stretching can feel good and if it makes you feel good, well then it cannot be a bad thing and you should continue to do it.

However, if you are pressed for time when you exercise, then don’t worry about missing your stretch at the end. It’s not going to make a huge difference to your pain levels the next day or leave you at more of a risk of injury.

Also, stretching before a game can be part of someones routine and if it helps them focus and ‘get in the zone’ well then there is no reason why that should be changed.

However Dynamic stretching is better than static stretching here.

Conclusion:

TO re-cap on everything.

1 – Static stretching does not hold the importance that people may think it has in terms of preventing 2 2 – If you are spending a good portion of  your training time stretching lots of muscle, then you might want to reconsider the reason why you are doing this.

3- Use dynamic stretching or 3D stretching as your warm-up instead of static stretching.

4 – Consider the movements and positions you need to get into to play or enjoy your favorite sport or activity and if you have enough flexibility to perform them well, then happy days. Time spent stretching here may be better spent stretching elsewhere of working on strength and stability.

So I hope you feel a little bit more informed about stretching after reading this. .

As stated earlier if you are unsure what is right for you then an individual assessment can be the answer, to tell you what areas have enough flexibility in and what areas you may be lacking in.

So, thanks for reading and if you have any questions or issues please get in touch at derek@midlandsphysicaltherapy.ie or leave a coment below

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