The Importance of Stretching
Stretching is something that is so integral to our self-care routine, but can be overlooked during conversations on self-care. Stretching can be done at any time, and in any place. It is one of the most healthy things that we can do for ourselves. Have you ever wondered why it feels so great to let out a full yawn, complete with arms up and back arched? Your body is waking itself up! You are stretching the lungs and the muscles around them, and you are stretching your arms, back, and core as well. This is a natural body function.
Stretching is important to your brain and body. It shouldn’t take a back seat to other activities that you perform for your regular self-care. Stretching helps you with the following and so much more:
-Stretching improves your joints’ range of motion.
-Stretching can improve your athletic performance.
-Stretching decreases your risk of injury.
Benefits of stretching
Stretching improves flexibility and the range of motion in your joints, as well as decreasing your chances of becoming injured. The ritual of stretching can be beneficial to you both before and after activities, as well as on its own. Many people associate stretching with a before or after activity routine, but stretching has many of its own health benefits. No matter what level of physical activity you perform during the day, or whether you perform any activity aside from stretching, integrate a range of stretches into your routine to achieve maximum benefits. The most obvious and discussed benefit of a regular stretching routine is the improvement of flexibility. Improving your flexibility is helpful to you in the following ways:
-Improves your performance in physical activities
-Decreases your risk of injuries
-Helps your joints move through their full range of motion
-Enables your muscles to work most effectively
Range of motion in your joints is a huge benefit to a regular stretching routine.
Decreasing your chance for injury by stretching is a useful and necessary practice.
In addition to the big three benefits, increasing range of motion, decreasing chance of injury, and improving flexibility, stretching regularly has also been shown to improve your health in other ways:
Stress causes muscles to contract and it leaves your body in a state of tense, uncomfortable, and harmful situations. Tension like this affects your entire being. Your body, mind, and spirit will be in a negative state. Stretching in the morning after you wake up is a great way to give yourself a moment to reflect and start your day right. Loosening your muscles and relaxing will release endorphins and give you that pick-me-up that you need in the early morning. Stretching before you go to bed at night can give you an amazing and restful sleep.
Stretching increases your blood flow. Your muscles need that extra circulation in order to promote cell growth, and your organs function will improve from better circulation as well. This increased blood flow will also assist you in leveling out blood pressure and lowering your resting heart rate.
-Increase in Energy
A byproduct of stretching is that it increases the oxygen flow in your blood, thereby reducing muscle fatigue. This will cause your endurance to increase, and you will get a boost of energy. If you are in an afternoon slump, try stretching for a bit, and you will see how well this works!
-Improvement of Posture
A huge problem that many of us have is lower back pain. Tension in the lower back, the chest, and the shoulders can cause pain. That pain often causes us to sit or stand in a way that puts pressure on the spine. We then respond by sitting or standing in a way that is not proper, and causes postural issues. Stretching lengthens and relieves tight, tense muscles. This relieves aches and pains and allows us to maintain proper posture.
Stretching has been used among athletes and rehabilitation centers to alleviate pain caused by anything from sports injuries to car accidents. Restricted movement can cause pain, inhibit movement, and create stiffness and aches in our bodies. Stretching has been found to counteract these effects. Studies have found that a routine stretching and strengthening exercise program reduces pain and improves function of associated joints and muscles. Read our blog to learn how we can help you with injuries and car accidents.
Extra Stretching Information
Proper stretching technique is very important. The last thing you want to do is get hurt when you are trying your best to improve your own quality of life. There are correct and incorrect ways to stretch. Here are some tips to help you along the way.
-Don't consider stretching a warm-up.
It is best to ease into stretching and assume that it needs its own warm-up. Do a little bit of activity, about 10 minutes, and then stretch little by little, slowly building up to a more deep stretch. Building up to a dynamic movement warm-up is usually best for pre-activity stretching. This is a warm-up that involves using the movements that will be used in the actual activity you are preparing to do, but slowly and at a low impact level to start. Then, you can increase depth of stretch and speed of the activity in a slow build-up.
-Strive for symmetry.
It is more important to be equally flexible on both sides of your body than it is to compare yourself to other people. Our genetics are all different, and you or I may not be as flexible as a dancer or a gymnast. It is important, though, for your body to be in a state of symmetry in order to reap the benefits that regular stretching provides. Strive for symmetry and what feels best for your body to attain proper self-care stretching routines.
-Focus on major muscle groups.
Focus your energy on the main muscle groups, calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders. Stretch both sides equally, and be sure to target any muscle groups and joints that you use regularly.
Smooth and even movement is key in stretching. Bouncing during a stretch can cause a great amount of harm to you, and you may end up needing medical help if you injure yourself. We are well versed in Sports Injuries here, and if you would like to read more about that, we have quite a bit of information on Sports Massage and Sports Injury Massage.
-Hold your stretch.
Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds. Any stretch can be held for longer, though, and it is often beneficial to do so. Stretching can be quite meditative if you approach it correctly, and that can be quite a boon to you in your search for a homeostatic mental and spiritual state.
-Don't aim for pain.
You want to feel the stretch, the tension. You DO NOT want to be in pain. If you are in pain, it is because your body is telling you to back off. Back off of the stretch until you are no longer in pain, but can feel that the muscle is in tension. Slightly uncomfortable is ok. Just breath and relax. Listen to your body.
-Make stretches sport specific.
What sport or activity do you regularly participate in? Soccer has a large occurence of hamstring strain injuries. Skiing injuries are most prevalent in the knee. If you want to get the most out of your stretching, it can be useful to target parts of your body that are most used and most likely to be injured during your favorite activities. We handle many injuries here, and would love to assist you in avoiding them. To learn a bit more about Ski Injuries and Medical Massage Therapy.
-Keep up with your stretching.
Many of our Self-Care information gives you tips on quick self-care. We realize that stretching can be time consuming. It is important to keep up with stretching, though, at least 2-3 times a week in order to maintain the range of motion and flexibility that you have built up. If you neglect your stretching regimen, you could quickly lose the progress you have made, and you will need to build that back up. For some more information on self-care, check out this information!
-Bring movement into your stretching.
The dynamic warm-up is a great way to start doing this. Practices like Yoga and Tai Chi are also useful ways to attain movement into your stretching practice. Using movement in stretching is a great way to improve range of motion in your joints, and it can also vastly improve your skill in whatever activity you are performing. Proprioception is an incredible tool to add to your toolbox, and being aware of where your body is in space is a phenomenal skill that can be developed by bringing movement into your stretching routine.
When to be Extra Careful
Chronic conditions are especially difficult to manage, and stretching can be an issue if used improperly. It is important to talk to your doctor or physical therapist about what stretches may or may not benefit you if you have a condition or injury. You might need to adjust your stretching techniques. You don’t want to do anything to re-injure a previously injured area. Also remember that stretching doesn't mean you can't get injured. Stretching, for instance, won't prevent an overuse injury. For more information on how we can help you with your chronic pain, read our blog.
Combining Stretching with Massage:
Assisted stretching is the practice of one person helping another person stretch. This has been a practice for many years in the athletic training world. Athletes have benefitted from this type of therapy, and now everyone can, as Assisted Stretching has made its way into Massage Therapy facilities, gyms, and spas. Aside from athletes, this type of stretching is extremely useful to people who may have limited mobility, are limited in their ability to move on there own at all, and people with high stress.
There are many techniques that a practitioner who is trained in assisted stretching can use, and your therapist can help you figure out which of those techniques suites you and your needs best. It requires advanced training in the way the body moves and is often done by massage therapists, physical therapists, chiropractors and athletic trainers. Assisted stretching is a gentle technique that can be used not only on generalized clientele, but also on children, adults, the elderly and those with physical disabilities.
Extensive knowledge in anatomy of the human body will guide your session, which will include an in-depth assessment of your physical health. The therapist who is treating you will look at range of motion, flexibility, limitations, alignment, pain and discomfort levels. They will develop a plan that will help you reach goals that have been discussed by you and your therapist.
With the assistance of a trained stretch therapist, a client can go deeper into a stretch safely, effectively and without injury. These sessions are fully customize-able and act as an enhancement to a client’s current wellness program. Clients who are stretched often experience improved posture, pain relief, a reduction in stress, rejuvenation and an overall feeling of well-being. To discuss more about Stretching and Massage Therapy, contact us at www.HealingSolutionsInc.com
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