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Stretching is the deliberate lengthening of the muscle to allow it to reach its greatest comfortable length. This allows joints to move freely and function at their best. This can reduce pain and tension, as well as relax the body. Moving through various types of stretching can prolong the ability to walk and move for the entirety of life.
Different types of stretching can be used for different purposes.
Static/passive stretching is the most common type of stretching and can be performed at home easily. This involves the basic stretching of a muscle by making it longer. An example is the hamstrings. The hamstrings can be stretched by keeping the legs straight and touching the toes. This allows for the hamstrings to lengthen over time. Active stretches should be held for 30 seconds and should never hurt. Ideally, a stretch will be held to a 4/10 intensity level.
Active stretching acts in a similar way, although instead of holding the stretch manually, the opposing muscle is used to lengthen the stretch. Again, using the hamstrings as an example, to stretch the hamstring, the front of the leg (or quadriceps) can be tensed to create a stretch of the hamstring. This can be done in repetitions and may contain holds of a few seconds in flexed/extended positions.
A modified version of active stretching is PNF. PNF stretching uses the contractions of muscles to help the body relax itself and release tight fixations. There are several ways of achieving these results, but all include a period of contraction of around 50-70% maximum force before a period of lengthening the muscle. An example would be;
Stretching the hamstrings:
The above steps allow the muscles to lengthen and relax.
These steps allow for a greater range of motion within the targeted muscle.
Note: Active and dynamic stretches to warm up before activity, static stretches to help with recovery and “warm down”
Stretching after exercise can minimize the buildup of inflammation and chemicals in the body that can lead to stiffness and soreness the next day. By allowing the muscles to be in an ideal flexible state, they are able to relax and heal themselves as quickly as possible. This leads to better recovery time from exercise and greatly reduces the risk of injury.
It depends. If there is already a muscle injury, stretching can cause further injury if done incorrectly. Stretches should never hurt, so even small stretches to stay out of pain can be beneficial to muscles. Stretching when done properly is extremely safe and beneficial to preserve and improving muscle health.
Stretching is important as it keeps the muscle healthy. Stretching muscles allow them to lengthen to their full position, which can help to avoid injuries upon movement. When stretching does not occur muscles will be maintained in a shortened state, which leaves them weaker and more susceptible to tears.
For example, sitting all day can cause the muscles of the back to become tight. They will be temporarily weak and shortened from being seated, so when the same person tries to lift something heavy they have an increased risk of damaging those muscles.
It is also important to maintain a good range of motion for the joints of the body. This can help to limit the feeling of stiffness and tightness in joints like the shoulders, hips and even the spine.
Stretching can improve posture. By stretching specific groups of muscles it is possible to take pressure off joints, allowing them to function at their best. When these joints function properly the aches and pains caused by posture can be reduced greatly.
Stretching can also help to relieve stress. In the muscles of the neck, tightness can lead to stress and stress can in turn lead to tightness. When these muscles have stretched, a feeling of relaxation may be felt as the body is able to switch off those muscles that have been unknowingly contracted for long periods.
Long-term, stretching is very good for your joints and posture. It allows for a greater range of motion in later life, preserving mobility into later years. When a stretching routine is maintained, a joint can move in its full range without pain or jamming. This allows for joints such as the hips and low back to be preserved for as long as possible.
Stretching is a fantastic way to help move, feel and function better through all joints of the body. While it can be a slow process initially, both the short and long-term benefits of being able to move without pain are worth the minutes per week it takes to maintain some flexibility.