Avoid Injury with Proper Stretching
Most people don’t seek physical therapy until many years of pain or after an injury has occurred, in which the pain becomes unbearable. Physical therapists are experts at identifying reasons why this nagging pain even exists and knowing factors that predispose someone to injury. One of the most common reasons and predisposing factors is tightness in muscles and joints.
The body’s musculoskeletal system is comprised of bones that provide structure and support and muscles that allow the body to move through contraction and relaxation. A combination of muscles, ligaments and tendons work together to help the bones of the joints to move easily and freely. Regular stretching allows these activities to continue at optimal levels and offer benefits that far exceed the investment of time and energy required to do it.
So what benefits does stretching provide? For starters, stress relief and enhanced flexibility, posture, coordination and circulation.
Your range of motion tends to decrease as you age. Therefore, doing anything you can do to maintain and even improve your flexibility will improve the quality of life you enjoy as you grow older. Stretching is the best thing you can do toward that end. In turn, flexibility helps maintain muscle function and prevents stiffness and joint degeneration as well as permanent changes in your posture.
Good posture encourages internal and external confidence. Frequent stretching keeps your back and shoulder muscles from getting tight, which is key to obtaining and maintaining proper posture. Good posture is how back pain and its related headaches are kept at bay.
Surprisingly, stretching your hip flexors improves your posture. When the hip flexors (muscles in the front of your thigh) are shortened due to inactivity such as sitting for prolonged periods, the hamstrings are forced to take over the weight of the individual when standing. This throws the hips forward and curves the spine, which results in bad posture.
When blood flows to your muscles, it carries with it the nutrients needed for optimal performance and carries away waste products that can contribute to injury or illness. Stretching increases blood flow, keeping you healthy and moving easily.
Stretching for improved circulation is particularly important for those with limited mobility, as it helps keep healthy muscle tissue to maintain its vitality and can help injured muscles recover more quickly.
Coordination is the ability to control your limbs. Stretching requires you to focus attention on movement, thus strengthening coordination between the brain’s impulses and the body’s resulting movements.
Stretching also improves your balance by keeping your joints flexible, enabling you to move freely and decreasing the likelihood of falling and injuring yourself.
Stress causes us to be distracted, which increases the likelihood of injury. Stress also tightens the muscles as well as the tendons and ligaments attached to your joints, causing pain in the form of back pain, tension headaches, a pinched neck and tight shoulders.
Stretching is most effective for getting rid of stress and allowing the muscles to literally release it and get rid of its toxicities through increased blood flow. A relaxed body helps you to think more clearly and rest more easily.
How to Stretch
Every muscle in your body, no matter its size or shape, is composed of small fibers that contract, relax and lengthen as you stretch. To avoid injury, it’s important that stretching is done correctly. Proper form is vital to proper stretching.
To ensure you receive all the benefits stretching provides, follow these tips:
- Warm up first. Stretching a cold muscle causes injury. Warm up your body with a low impact activity such as walking for a couple minutes to get your heart rate up, increase blood flow and warm your muscles before you stretch.
- Hold the stretch still. It takes time for a muscle to lengthen. Therefore you need to hold your stretches for at least 30 seconds to allow the tissues to lengthen. Tighter muscles may require more time. Bouncing while you stretch causes your muscles to tear. As these tears heal, they build scar tissue that ultimately decreases your flexibility and range of motion. Keep your stretches still.
- Relax and breathe through the stretch. Breathing is critical to proper stretching. Remember, muscle relaxation is part of the cycle of stretching. If you hold your breath you can’t relax. You must relax your body to lengthen the muscle. Breathe freely through stretch, going a little farther, if you can, as you exhale.
- Pay attention to pain. If you begin to feel pain as you stretch, you’re overdoing it. Back away to a point where you don’t feel any pain and hold that position.
- Stretch each side equally. Your body is symmetrical by design. To ensure proper balance, range of motion and coordination, it’s important that what you stretch on one side, you stretch on the other as well.
- Stretch before and after physical activity. While light stretching before an activity avoids injury during the activity, more thorough stretching after the activity provides insurance against future injury. You may find you’re able to stretch just a little further than you did prior to the activity.
Professional Therapy Associates Is Focused on Prevention
Taking care of yourself through preventative care means no longer living with pain or limited activities. To ensure you’re doing all that’s necessary to keep your bones and muscles strong and healthy, contact Professional Therapy Associates for a free personal consultation. Valued at $100, a Professional Therapy Associates screening gives you the opportunity to consult with a licensed physical therapist at no charge. Your physical therapist will conduct appropriate testing to pinpoint the cause of pain or limited range of motion. Residents of Flathead Valley are welcome to come in for a free consultation from Professional Therapy Associates.
About Physical Therapy Associates
Professional Therapy Associates has four locations to serve you in Flathead Valley. Appointments can be made by calling North Kalispell (406-756-7878), Whitefish (406-862-5033), Columbia Falls (406- 892-7999) and Flathead Health and Fitness in Downtown Kalispell (406-257-5610).
Owner Blaine Stimac and his team of dedicated, professional physical therapists have been treating area residents since 1988, and are ready to provide you the highest level of care and service. To find out more about the full range of services offered by Professional Therapy Associates visit http://www.ptflathead.com.