Why is Stretching Important?

Stretching tips and myths debunked for greater spinal health.

Stretching has been touted for it’s many benefits, some of which are true and some that are not-so-true.  Do you know why we should stretch, and for what reasons?  Here are some things to consider before doing your favorite sport or activity.

Warming up before an event or activity is often combined with stretching.  But did you know that stretching before physical activity has been shown to have no little to no effect on injury prevention?  Only a proper warm-up prior to activity is most likely to prevent injury.

Think back for a moment to your days of middle school gym class.  Yes, for many of us this is a cringe-worthy thought.  Those awkward days of puberty, disproportionate body parts, coupled with the stresses of fitting-in while somehow playing it cool like you have it all figured out as a 12 year old. Those wonderful days of ill-fitting clothing and the not-so-hip athletic shoes your mom picked out for you.  They weren’t the pair you wanted, but mom said they would look great on you.  Oh, how she was wrong. Yep, we’re talking about those days. 

During gym class everybody stretches, and stretches, and stretches, for what seemed like an eternity.  Some days, you likely spent this time thinking how awful your tennis shoes looked compared to the popular kid’s brand shoes, and imagined how you could somehow switch shoes with him or her without them knowing.   The idle fantasies of youth is really creative, isn’t it?  But back to those stretches.

The old practices of stretching simply doesn’t help us from getting injured.

Even though most of us can remember a time in gym class during grade school where the class would stretch before playing a game or running, this practice simply doesn’t help us from getting injured.  It can help lengthen muscles, but the kind of gym class stretching you likely remember well is a thing of the past. 

Today, warm ups should consist of functional movements that prepare your body for the activity you are about to be doing.  Think about the field goal kicker you have seen on the sidelines during a game.  He isn’t spending his time focused on stretching to “stay loose”, but working on movements that will improve the kick and the activity he is trained to perform. He actively engages his body and muscle by performing practice kicks.  This helps his brain and muscles form connections that improve his performance on the field.  That is a pretty amazing concept if you think about it, right?

We should approach stretching with some basic information. This information should help you to feel empowered and not afraid of stretching for greater health. Stretching can actually lead to injury and thus may not be appropriate for athletes before commencing activity. This will vary and depends on the activity.  Ask us on your next visit if you have specific questions.

The football kicker, as well as us, will benefit greatly if we stretch after activity. For healthy individuals, 30 seconds of stretching per muscle group will increase range of motion.  That is all it takes! This is great news for those who find stretching time consuming or laborious.  However, certain muscle groups and injuries require additional time or repetitions. We can help you decide how long each muscle group should be stretched.

Stress affects your muscles negatively.


One reason why muscles go into spasm or become tight is due to emotional (psychological) stress that affects a part of your brain called the Limbic system.  The Limbic system is a complex area of the brain that controls mood, emotions, and behavior, motivation, and long term memory.  Complex processes like hormone regulation are affected by this system. When the Limbic system processes negative emotional stress, one thing that can result is a physical reaction in the muscles. The emotional stress could then manifest as a muscle spasm or increased muscle tone over different areas of the body, such as the shoulder and neck area, the low back, and the pelvic floor area. 

There is evidence that the Spinal Shifts or Subluxations that are corrected by Corrective Chiropractic Care can be caused in part by our thoughts and mental stresses.  These thoughts then develop into physical problems- first, the spinal problem occurs, then as a result, the muscles tighten as a compensatory mechanism to prevent further rotation and injury of the spine. We have found this to be true in many patients who experience stress from a job or personal reasons.

This can manifest as a simple tight muscle, or leave you or me predisposed to developing trigger points.  Trigger points develop as a result of muscle dysfunction, and is from sustained shortening of the muscle fibers.  The area within the muscle is very painful when pressed and causes the pain to travel to other areas of the body, such as the shoulder or hip. We find that addressing the underlying spinal problem often allows the muscles to relax and the trigger point to go away.  For particularly bothersome trigger points, we also have therapeutic options that can help to provide safe and effective relief.

In summary:

  • Stretching is great after workouts and activity, but the evidence does not support stretching before activity.  It can, depending on the activity, be best completed after you exercise or are finished being physically active.
  • Hold stretches for 30 seconds to improve range of motion and relieve stiffness
  • Mental stress can cause spinal Subluxations which result in muscle spasm and trigger points.
  • Trigger points are painful areas with a muscle that

 

 


References:
Liebenson, Craig. Rhabilitation of the Spine: A Practicioner’s Manual, 2nd ed. Chapter 19: Manual Resistance Techniques. Lippincott Williams.2007.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limbic_system

http://www.chiro.org/LINKS/ABSTRACTS/Stabilizing_The_Pelvis.shtml

http://www.chiro.org/ACAPress/The_Pelvis.html