A Stretch a Day Keeps the Pain Away!

Watch your animals and you will often see them get up and stretch. Stretching helps to keep muscles loosened so that you can bend or move without hurting yourself. Stretching improves the flexibility of your joints and muscles, which improves your mobility and range of motion.

Back in the good ol’ days, we always stretched before we did any physical activity. If you can remember that elementary PE class, you always started with stretching. Since I was a PE student, the recommendations for stretching have come under scrutiny. There are conflicting ideas about when to stretch in order to prevent injury, prevent muscle soreness and stiffness, and improve athletic ability.

Most exercise specialists now believe that stretching immediately before exercise does not prevent acute injury during the event. Current research supports stretching after exercise as a way to alleviate pain and muscle soreness that may be an aftereffect of working out. It is felt that a greater frequency of stretching actually helps with injury prevention. For example, routinely participating in a stretching or yoga class may be more beneficial in reducing your risk of injury than stretching immediately prior to a workout. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind:

• Start slowly: More frequent stretching during the day may be better than one long stretching session.

• Do not force yourself into positions or deep stretches. This can cause pain and muscle injury.

• Remember to breathe while stretching. Often, as you breathe deeply and slowly, you will be able to expand your stretch through relaxation.

• Aim to stretch three times per week and on days that you exercise.

• Avoid stretching a cold muscle. Walk or march in place lightly for at least five minutes before proceeding to stretch.

• Be very careful while stretching if you have a chronic illness or have experienced an injury. Consult your physician for guidance.

• Aim to stretch all major muscle groups.

• Listen to the signals your body gives you. Genetics and flexibility levels vary. Only do what you are able to do!

• Incorporate both static or holding stretches as well as dynamic or moving stretches, such as reaching your arms over your head or reaching from side to side. Never bounce—this makes your muscle like a rubber band which is prone to breakage.

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