Stretching is something typically taught to us around the time of elementary school. We are taught to stretch before and after exercise, generally speaking. In more recent years, there have been some who argue that stretching can decrease physical performance in sport and for this reason some people don't believe in stretching any more. Before all of the concern about stretching's so-called negative impact on sports performance, the consensus was simply that stretching was boring or "took too much time." For many people, this is still the reason they choose not to stretch.
So what is stretching really? Stretching as a verb simply means to lengthen, widen or distend. When it comes to muscles and tendons, lengthening is the primary action. What should be stretched? Generally tight muscles should be stretched. The reason that stretching is recommended is to prevent pathologic (or harmful) shortening of a tendon or ligament, as this can cause rupture or tearing across the ligament or tendon over time. Soft tissues in the body that are used over and over but never stretched loose some of their elasticity - and thus some of their resilience or ability to recover from strain or work.
As we age, the tendons in our body get tighter and less flexible. Think of a rubber band. When fresh from the store, they can be stretched far apart. If you've ever found an old rubber band in that junk drawer in the kitchen and tried to pull and stretch it, it may have either snapped or crumbled apart. Your tendons can, unfortunately, suffer a similar fate.
In reference to the concern of decreased performance in sport, I have yet to see an accredited article stating decreased performance due to stretching. This concern is quite prevalent among jumpers and sprinters. The thought out there is that the bounce of the tendon is lost when it is stretched. However, this has not been proven and it is important to consider stretching's benefits of reduced injury over time.
While it is true that it can be detrimental to stretch a 'cold' muscle, stretching will generally improve mechanics in the body and allow full range of motion of joints, which helps to actually nourish the joints on a daily basis. If you are minimally active, it is recommended that stretching is performed twice weekly. In cases where a person exercises 3, 5 or all days of the week, stretching should be performed after a light warm-up each day of exercise. After exercise stretching enhances recovery of the muscles stretched, as well as decreases the heart rate in preparation of completing your workout. General rules on stretching is that; 1. It should not be painful. 2. It should be performed equally on both sides. 3. Each muscle stretched should be stretched three times for 15-30 seconds each repitition.
Instances where stretching truly is NOT beneficial are as follows; 1. If a muscle/tendon is recently injured or torn. 2. The joint is extended beyond its normal constraints (ie. hyperextending the elbow or shoulder). 3. If an injury has occured in the same area as the muscle to be stretched.
Some of PPFAC's recommended stretches can be seen here. There are also some helpful videos about stretching under the video section of our website. If you aren't sure whether you should be stretching or resting a painful foot or ankle, a quick visit to the office can help us to determine the appropriate course for you. Call our office today!