Benefits of Stretching

Whether you are looking to start a new fitness program or are an athlete working to increase your performance, stretching can be helpful. But with many different types of stretching, it can be hard to know which type works best to suit your specific purposes. Physical Therapist Kevin Rose with San Juan Regional Medical Center’s Rehabilitation Services helps us to understand some of the most common types of stretching and when to use each one appropriately.

Types of Stretching

1. Static stretching- the goal of static stretching is to elongate the muscle by applying a low force over a long duration, usually at least 15-30 seconds but it can be over two minutes. This will result in increased range of motion of the joint, decreased muscle and tendon stiffness and reduced risk of muscle strain injuries. However, static stretching as part of a warmup has been shown to decrease muscle strength immediately following stretching and has been shown to be detrimental in immediate post-performance of running and jumping.

2. Dynamic stretching- this type of stretching usually mimics the functional movement, sport or activity being performed and is a repetitive motion. This will help the body slowly become accustomed to that movement so that during sport or activity you will have improved neuromuscular and motor control. It involves moving a limb through its full range of motion and repeating this several times. This type of stretching is most effective as a warmup prior to sport or activity. For a swimmer, this could involve making multiple arm circling motions prior to entering the water.

Ballistic stretching is a type of dynamic stretching that involves rapid or forceful bouncing movements intended to quickly and repetitively stretch the muscle beyond its normal range of motion. This can be dangerous and should be performed by trained athletes or under the direction of an athletic trainer or physical therapist.

3. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching- this type of stretching involves contractions of muscles, usually then followed by a passive stretch by a partner of either of those muscles or antagonist muscles. This is a more advanced form of stretching and should be done by individuals trained in the technique.

Which type of stretch is right for me?

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that most people participating in a general fitness program should perform static stretching that is preceded by an active warmup about two or three days per week. A stretch should be held for 15-30 seconds and repeated two to four times. Older adults may need to hold the stretches longer than 30 seconds, which can result in greater improvements in hamstring flexibility, spinal mobility and range of motion. Static stretching performed as part of a warmup before exercising can reduce stiffness and increase range of motion during exercise. This is especially beneficial for athletes requiring flexibility for their sport, such as dance or gymnastics.

Dynamic stretching may be better served for those who require better running and jumping performance for their sport, like basketball players or sprinters. It is also useful as part of a warmup for an aerobic workout.

When shouldn’t I stretch?

1. If you already have hypermobility at that joint, or if you have hypermobility in general. Hypermobility is when the muscle or joint is already stretched too far or moves too much. This can leave the muscle or joint susceptible to injury. Signs you may be hypermobile include being able to touch your entire palms to the ground with your knees straight or bend your thumb all the way back and touch your wrist. This is more common in women.

2. If you have a fracture and before bone healing has been completed. If you do have a recent fracture, stretching should be under the direction of a physician and physical or occupational therapist.

3. If there’s an infection or inflammation, including swelling, is present in the joint. Stretching could worsen the inflammation or stretching.

4. If you have sharp pain with joint movement or muscle stretch. In this case, you could have an injury to the muscle, tendon or bones involved n the join and stretching may worsen this injury.

5. If you have bruising or other soft tissue injuries. Allow your body time to completely heal before starting or resuming stretching.

While there are certainly times when you shouldn’t be stretching, overall, there are multiple benefits to stretching. It can improve performance in physical activities, decrease risk of muscle and tendon injury, help your joints move through their full range of motion, enable muscles to work most effectively, reduce post-exercise soreness, improve circulation and relieve muscle pain.

If you have any questions about the type of stretching that you could benefit most from, contact San Juan Regional Medical Center’s Adult Rehabilitation Outpatient Center at 505.609.6575. Our therapists are experts in their field offering a wide variety of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy services.

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