With better weather comes increased activity. This is a good thing. Once we resume our outdoor activities, we will often question what and how much stretching we should do. We do this automatically thanks to such sources as elementary school gym teachers of the 70’s and 80’s, Richard Simmons, and years without sound research. Many of my clients blame themselves for their injuries because they should have “stretched more.” There is no good evidence to suggest that a lack of stretching has anything to do with incurring injuries.
My basic advice for my clients is this: I would rather people spend more time being active without worrying if stretching is necessary. I recommend warming up before an activity. If your muscles still feel restricted once you are warm and blood is flowing, then go ahead and stretch if it makes you feel better (both physically and mentally). Stretching should not be aggressive. Instead, do it in a relaxed manner and without holding your breath. Gentle stretching after an activity can also help with a cool down but isn’t always necessary.
There are situations in which someone may need stretching. These situations are not universal and guidelines vary. What one person needs to stretch may harm another. A physical therapist can help you identify if stretching is necessary and what to specifically stretch. And even if you think you need to stretch, you may be stretching a muscle that doesn’t need it, such as a “tight” muscle. Please see my previous blog post regarding short versus tight muscles.
Do not get me wrong, I am not suggesting stretching is bad. However, most people don’t always need to, for example, stretch their hamstrings, a very classical stretched muscle group. Mobility exercises can be great but the need should be properly assessed and prescribed by a trained professional. Give us a call if you think we can help.
Dr. John De Noyelles, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS