Do you give stretching much thought? Many people perform a quick stretch after a workout or a run, then forget about it until the next time. Whether or not you lead an active lifestyle, regular stretching offers a simple way to improve your health.
To understand how stretching helps, we first must know what muscles do. Imagine our muscles are like the carriages on a train; each one connected by a coupling. As we contract a muscle, it shortens. In our train analogy, contraction brings the carriages closer together − it makes the train shorter. In our body, muscle contraction is what generates movement.
Regular stretching lengthens muscle tissue and increases flexibility, which we need to maintain a range of motion in our joints.
What happens if we don’t stretch?
Our bodies are efficient, so if a muscle remains contracted for long periods, the ‘extra carriages’ are deemed unnecessary. After all, every ‘carriage’ requires sustenance and maintenance. By removing what isn’t used, those resources can be used elsewhere. In our bodies this can result in shorter, tighter muscles, reduced flexibility and stiffness, loss of strength, reduced blood flow, and pain. These muscular changes are commonly seen with poor posture, continual sitting, and following injury.
Stretching, then, helps to restore the lost carriages. It also figuratively oils the couplings. As with brushing your teeth, a daily routine improves outcomes. The benefits include improved range of motion, enhanced blood flow, better posture, and relief from shoulder and back pain.
Stretching tips and safety
As with all exercise, there are some safety guidelines. If you have an injury or any physical limitations, only perform stretches recommended for you by a health professional.
The best time to stretch is after you work out or have warmed your body up with some light exercise. Cold muscles are not as pliable, which makes stretching more difficult and risky.
Don’t overdo it. If you’re stretching the same muscle groups too often, you risk over- stretching and causing injuries, inflammation and pain. Think back to the train. If we were to force the carriages too far apart, damage would occur.
Should stretching feel painful? The short answer is no, but it’s normal to feel some tension. A stretch should feel like a stretch!
If you experience pain or you have any questions about stretching, ask your chiropractor for advice.