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How to stretch

Why stretch?

In my chiropractic office, I often have to remind my patients of the importance of stretching before a workout  (pre-workout stretching) and after a heavy duty workout session. It is important to know waht stretching exercises to do before or after workouts and , and which stretching to do at home to increase flexibility. Some of these stretching exercises are for everyone and then again, some that are unique to each individual based on what they are seeing me for. You can check out my YouTube channel for a list of exercises and overall recommendations based on the area of complaint (checkout the playlists first). One of the things that I look for in a good stretch is an increasing flexibility in the body. Today, I will be going over the different types of stretching and some of the benefits of muscle stretching.

The Different Types of Stretching

There are many different types of stretching and each has its own benefits and drawbacks.

  • Static stretching is when you hold a stretch in a challenging but comfortable position for a small period of time. Usually, between 10 to 30 seconds. Static stretching is done in exercises fitness programs. This type of stretch is great at increasing flexibility, however, I am not a big fan of this because Static Stretching can cause muscle injury in most people. A great example is the Pigeon Pose in Yoga!! When done right, no injuries but I see many patients that come in with Piriformis Syndrome and pulled Piriformis muscle from that pose done wrong!
  • Dynamic stretching is when you go through different ranges of motions multiple times. For example, when performing a lunge, instead of holding it, you bounce into it slowly. Dynamic stretching is a controlled and smooth motion. I prefer this type of stretching because it not only stretches the muscles, but also warms the muscle and increases blood flow to the body to help you prepare for workout.
  • Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation or PNF is a type of stretching that relies heavily on reflexes to produce a deeper stretch. PNF was originally used to treat neuromuscular conditions such as multiple sclerosis or even polio. This type of stretch is so important because it is able to increase the range of motion of the joint the muscle moves. The concept behind this stretch is that you stretch the specific muscle to its limit, an before injuring itself the muscle naturally relaxes to prevent itself from getting injured. This type of stretching should not be done alone! and I highly recommend a professional to help guide and teach you on how to best access and benefit from this type of exercise to avoid spraining and straining the joint and muscle. I do PNF for both pre-performance athletic events or post injury rehab. on my patients.
  • PIR or Post Isometric Relaxation is the type of stretch done with the help of a professional when the muscle is stretched to the point of comfort, you push about 25%, as you relax and breath out, the professional stretches the muscle even more. I typically do this exercise on most patients or those who are recovering from injuries and to ease them into PNF!
  • Reverse Inhibition or RI is when the antagonist muscle ( the muscle that does the opposite move) is contracted and then stretched. For example, if your hamstring is tight, the quad is stretched. I normally do RI when the muscle is injured and the patient is apprehensive about moving it.

Stretching Helps the Spine

Stretching your spine will do wonders for your posture, especially if you sit down at a desk a lot, drive often or find yourself in a slouched posture. A few simple rotational stretches for your spine will decrease your risk of back injury, can relieve non-specific back pain, improve your athletic performance, and improve your overall mood! After all, who is in a good mood when in pain?!

Stretching can Help with Low back Pain

One of the most well-known benefits of stretching is the ability for it to relieve low back pain. Exercises such as the windshield wipers are able to relieve tension and tightness in the lower back. The muscles stretched with this exercise are the: erector spinae, pelvic muscles, and the obliques. The knees to chest exercise is also a wonderful exercise to help with non-specific tight low back pain by addressing the gluteus maximus, pelvic muscles, spinal extensors and quadriceps.

Stretching Can Help with Neck Pain

Many may be surprised to hear that some types of neck pain and headaches can be relieved by stretching with the most common type being Tension or Suboccipital headaches. A helpful way to use stretching to treat such headaches is by doing the three-way neck stretch. This type of stretch is able to lengthen and ease the tension located in the upper trap, levator scapula and even the deep neck flexors.

Should I stretch before or after the workout?

Stretching before a workout is extremely important! Just as it is important to warm up a car before driving off to work in the morning, it is important for us to warm up our stiff muscles before working out. A full body stretch is vital to increase the blood flow to the muscles, improve joint mobility and warm up the body which optimizes your workout. Stretching the hamstrings, quadriceps, erector spinae (muscles in the lower back close to your spine), neck and shoulders are the must-do’s for every workout.

Stretching after a workout is of great importance because after an intense workout your muscles your muscles have been contracting and tightening and can stay in that state long enough to cause muscle soreness. By stretching them, the muscle fibers lengthen, relax some and decrease the amount of potential lactic acid build up that occurs because of the workout. Now remember that when it comes to stretching you stretch the muscles around the joint you workout; for instance, when you do shoulder workout, make sure to do the neck, elbow and upper mid back stretching if you don’t do more!

Helpful Tips and Tricks

Things to remember to do to get the most out of your stretch:

1)     Stay hydrated!

2)     Stretch your body consistently; for example, stretch for ten to fifteen minutes before starting your day.

3)     Never push your body past its limits

4)     If you are worried about a specific stretch, do not hesitate to ask me or your chiropractor to guide you

5)     Always push yourself to stretch before and after working out; as annoying as it may seem, this is one of the best ways to protect your joint mobility and prevent excess muscle soreness.

How do I Know What Type of Stretch Benefits Me?

This is a common question that I get quite often in the office; the type of stretch that will best benefit you depends on many factors:

1)     Your health goals: You want to be more flexible and prevent injuries while being active

2)     Your physical health: You get headaches or lower back pain often and use stretching for prevention or as a part of your treatment

3)     Injury:  You have a Frozen Shoulder

Your health is your BEST investment in life and spending a few extra minutes to assure you stay active and healthy is the least you can do for yourself. Remember, you are in charge of your life!

Dr. Shakib