Nothing in this article is meant to be medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider. Some information for this article was taken from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-importance-of-stretching and http://web.mit.edu/tkd/stretch/stretching_4.html
Last month, we promised more information on stretching, so here we go…
Harvard Medical School tells us in its September 2013 Harvard Health Letter “The importance of stretching” (The link is at the end of the article.), “Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints.”
Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you call on the muscles for activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage.
Regular stretching keeps muscles long, lean, and flexible, and this means that exertion “won’t put too much force on the muscle itself,” says Nolan. “Healthy muscles also help a person with balance problems to avoid falls.”
Stretching is something one benefits the best from if it is practiced daily.
But as we noted in last month’s “A healthy Idyllwild” article, not all stretching is equal. There are types of stretching used by kinesiologists and physical therapists for different types of training or rehabilitation.
There are also types of stretching to enhance athletic performance. There are types of stretching for general fitness, including yoga and Tai Chi or Qigong. There are also types of stretching for the art of dance.
We might say that safe, effective stretching has a common link in that all of these varied types of stretching are adroitly managing the muscle stretch reflex. The importance of managing the stretch reflex repeatedly pops up as a central theme in health and fitness literature discussing the most effective forms of stretching.
What is the stretch reflex and why should we be aware of it?
The stretch reflex is our bodies natural response to protect muscles from injury. So, it’s a good thing. Nevertheless, over-stimulating this protective reflex may cause loss in the range of motion (ROM) in our muscles.
An example of stretching that may well over-stimulate this reflex is ballistic stretching. On the other hand, as noted above, not stretching will also likely result in loss of ROM. Either way, loss of ROM and shortened, inflexible muscles are what we do not want.
If possible, do consider consulting an expert in body mechanics such as a physical therapist or kinesiologist before starting a stretching regimen if you have not already established a daily routine.
This gives you the chance to start with a strategy that takes into consideration where you are now regarding flexibility and that guides you into a practice that allows you to slowly recondition muscle tissue while avoiding any injury.
“Gradually, you can train your stretch receptors (the stretch reflex) to allow greater lengthening of the muscles,” states a MIT website.
Please don’t forget that it is not a good idea to stretch before warming up. Five to ten minutes of light activity is an adequate warm-up.
Callie Wight is a California state-licensed registered nurse with a Master of Arts in psychology.