Stretching is one of the most easily overlooked things but there are both mental and physical benefits to incorporating stretches into your daily routine.
In this article, we'll explore stretching, why it works, and why you should incorporate it into your everyday life.
"Stretching" is any movement that lengthens your muscles. This lengthening also affects surrounding tendons, ligaments, and connective tissue. Any time we move, something in the body is getting stretched.
Muscles act in groups to create movement, so when you lift your arm, muscles like the biceps
brachii are flexing while their counterpart, the triceps brachii is being stretched or lengthened. So, move around more!
When we take time to stretch these muscles, we're conditioning them to perform quicker and with more power and increasing our overall range of motion and flexibility.
Static Stretch: The traditional idea of a stretch. Once you reach the end of the range of motion, you hold the stretch in one position and then relax.
Dynamic Stretch: You are using a series of repetitive movements to take muscles through the full range of motion.
Active Stretch: You are creating the movement yourself
Passive Stretch: A therapist or other person is creating the movement
Increased Blood Flow leads to Increased Performance
There has been much research conducted to examine the effectiveness of stretching. One such study in 2018 examined the effects of passive stretching on endothelial cells and blood flow. Endothelial cells serve as a barrier between vessels and tissue, so, oxygen and nutrients need to pass through in order to feed the muscle.
The study confirmed that daily passive stretching of muscles enhances the permeability of endothelial tissue, and even induces the development of new blood vessels (angiogenesis). In turn, these changes allow for increased blood flow during an exercise following the stretch.
This increased blood flow enhances performance, can shorten recovery times, and reduces muscle soreness.
Better Flexibility & Range of Motion
As we grow older, we naturally start to lose some of our mobility. It's harder to get around, we have more aches and pains. Doing routine stretches improves and maintains flexibility within the joints and muscles which can delay some of those effects. Stretching can also increase your range of motion allowing for more freedom of movement.
This improved movement can help heal and prevent back pain or injury and can improve overall posture.
Taking a quick minute to stretch during a stressful day can help release some of the tension inevitably being held in the muscles. Muscles tighten in response to emotional or physical stress as a protection mechanism. If you're going through a stressful time, it can be calming to stretch your upper body, neck, and shoulders. A lot of tension in these areas often lead to headaches.
Performing a stretching routine in the morning or at night can also be a good time for reflection and meditation, bringing you more at peace.
Practical Uses for the Non-Athlete
As a massage therapist, it is vital to stretch before, after, and sometimes during sessions so we can move around the table with ease and position the client without causing injury to ourselves. Some styles such as Thai massage have techniques that stretch both the client and the therapist at the same time.
Many therapists will recommend specific stretching routines to their clients as "homework" in order to get closer to goals in their care plan. Doing this homework can help prolong the positive effects of your last massage increasing the potential for further progress in your next one.
People in these kinds of professions can also greatly benefit from incorporating stretches into their day:
Office workers - sitting at the desk all day is bad for your posture, take a moment on break to do some light stretching.
Manufacturing/Factory workers - standing on your feet, bending, twisting, and lifting all day has a higher risk of muscle injury. Stretching before your shift can help you work with less pain throughout the day.
Delivery workers - getting in and out of the car all day is physical and also has a higher risk of strains or pulled muscles from twisting incorrectly.
Hospital Workers/First Responders - If you're on your feet all day, and now you have to lift somebody who can't move, you want to make sure you've stretched first.
You have nothing to lose by taking a few minutes out of your day for some light stretching. Try doing a routine before you go to bed this week and see if you feel a change. If you do, leave a comment and let us know! Catch our article next week when we cover specific movements, what is being stretched, and why it is helpful.