Stretch it Out

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As a physical therapist, I am often asked, “What is the best way to avoid an injury?” One of the best answers I have is to stretch. When muscles become tight, they become weak and do not function properly. Injury can be caused when we call upon those weak muscles to do things that they may not be ready for at that moment. Thus, it is important to maintain proper muscle length for pain-free movement. Stretching is necessary for everyone and especially for those participating in some type of fitness or sport activity. There are two kinds of stretching that are important to incorporate into your exercise routine or other activities.

Most people are familiar with the static type of stretching, which is that reach and hold technique held for 20 to 60 seconds to allow for proper muscle lengthening. The second is called dynamic stretching, which is a quick stretch performed through large body movements. For example, lunges, trunk rotations, and arm circles are movements that combine multiple joints and mimic more of the actions your body will be required to perform during fitness activities. This type of stretching activates centers in your brain to become accustomed to any movements and positions that your body has not achieved in a while. It is essential to perform these types of stretches in a slow manner so that your body can learn what those positions feel like prior to any rigorous activity. This will help to prevent injuries such as muscle strains which occur when muscles are stretched beyond their capacity during a quick and forceful movement. Combining both of these types of stretches can be very helpful in avoiding injury.


"Static" calf stretch                                                                         "Dynamic" Lunge with Trunk Rotation

Before activities such as exercise, running, or playing sports, dynamic stretching can be more beneficial. This will integrate quick muscle stretching while increasing your body awareness and coordination. After activity, it is encouraged to perform some form of static stretching to lengthen the muscle again after putting it through significant demand during sports or other activities. Post activity stretching largely should consist of those static holds of 20, 30, 60 second holds for a few repetitions. Stretching muscles such as the hamstrings, calves, hip flexors, and quads are essential after performance. Along with that, static stretching is a great way to regain mobility lost through prolonged sitting or standing in day to day activities. Even though the “best way” to avoid injury has yet to be proven, stretching is a tested and proven way for assisting in injury prevention.