Is Stretching Good For You?

Anyone who has ever been to a physio has probably been given some “stretches to do for homework”. There isn’t much doubt that stretching can feel good or that it can provide at least temporary relief of symptoms such as pain or tightness. I ask most of my patients to try a series of stretches that are appropriate for their presenting symptoms. But I always ask my patients to consider the following caveats;

  • Stretching probably doesn’t alter the actual length of your muscles or fascia or any other body tissue.
  • The reason we feel looser after stretching likely has more to do with an interplay of sensory input and motor output within the central nervous system of the person doing the stretching.
  • Stretching doesn’t need to be a torturous experience in order for it to be useful for you.
  • Stretching should feel good. It should not hurt.
  • Stretching shouldn’t be an experience you have to endure for some future benefit. It should feel beneficial while you are stretching.

There are two main reasons to stretch;

  1. The first is that it feels good to stretch!
  2. The second is to get your joints and the tissues around them to move in a direction and manner that they don’t move very often.

Typically, your joints and tissues won’t move in a particular direction very often if your habitual occupational or recreational activities exclude a particular movement or body position. An office worker for example, spends many hours in a chair, with spine and hips flexed. So it makes good sense to suggest to such a person to set some time aside to stretch / move their body into positions that counter spine and hip flexion. Spinal extension exercises and hip extension exercises would probably be useful for such a person, assuming there are no other contra-indications to such movements for that individual. Stretching is basically a strategy we employ to help integrate more variety of joint / tissue movement and strain into your life. The more varied your daily repertoire of activities is, the less likely are you to develop an accumulative sense of tightness or aching in your muscles and joints.

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