Wednesday, January 14, 2009

“Stretching Smarts”

Ever since I started playing competitive sports stretching was always part of the process. It is quite interesting today, that whether you are aware of this or not, but there are many researchers, health professionals that say stretching does not help decrease injury or prepare you for competition. Now on the other hand there are many that say the complete opposite. So which is it? Let me give you my rundown on how I think stretching can be effective.

You must learn three basic principals while stretching:

1)knowing when is the best time to stretch.
2)knowing two basic approaches to lengthening the muscle-tendon unit and which is best for your situation.
3)Realizing that as your body or your activities change, so to must your stretching routine.

When should I stretch?

Immediately prior to your exercise warm-up, by stretching only the tight muscles identified by testing or those that lack needed flexibility relative to your chosen activity.
If you lack normal or optimal flexibility in any muscle group and wish to balance the body for injury prevention and/or pain reduction, then you want to stretch at night as close to bedtime as possible. This is because your body does most of its healing at night, and if you lengthen tight muscles before bed, they will heal in a lengthened state, progressively balancing your body. If you want to stretch to improve energy levels, you can get a favorable response whenever you are tired. So stretching first thing in the morning can help with energy flow and mental clarity.

Regardless when you stretch, the best results are when your body is warm. About the temperature that causes a light sweat.

What is the best method of stretching my muscles?

If you are preparing for an athletic event, I suggest a form of stretching called “contract-relax.” This method requires that you place the muscle to be stretched under tension and then activate it against immovable resistance (usually another person) for five seconds, followed immediately by five seconds of relaxed lengthening. You will find that breathing really influences your stretching; a general rule of thumb is to inhale as you activate a muscle and exhale as you relax and stretch it. It is very important that, after contracting for five seconds, you immediately move into the stretch positions as you relax and exhale.

If your muscles are chronically shortened(tight) and you need to improve joint range of motion beyond what can be done with contract-relax stretching, or if you have shortened connective tissues, than I suggest static stretching. This is best done at night, warm with a light sweat, in a steam bath or even in a hot tub. I recommend holding each stretch for a minute or more. But don’t be overzealous with your stretching efforts or your body will react against the stretch to protect you from injury..

When do I change my stretching routing?

If your work or sports activities change, so too must your stretching routine. Become familiar with what muscles are involved with your sport, hobby, or work. For example, as a golfer, I would want to take particular interest in low back and hip stretches, since so much pressure is put on the low back during a golf swing. For those that are at computers all day, knowing neck, upper back and wrist stretches can save you from significant pain and loss of work. I realize that most of you aren’t biomechanical specialists like us, but listen to your body and you wont be disappointed. If anybody would like recommendations for specific stretches for specific sports please feel free to contact me or come into the office for a thorough evaluation.

While the topic of stretching can become complex, I’m sure that if you apply these tips I’ve shared you will be on your way to improved posture and reduced pain and enhanced performance. Comments are welcome.

Dr. Derek Pelofsky is a certified chiropractic sports practitioner. He is one of the Sports Chiropractors at Chiropractic Sports Institute.

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