Stretching our muscles helps to keep our body in balance.
Have you ever felt a tightness in your chest or maybe the back of your thighs that gets worse the more you sit? If muscles are not stretched they can become short and tight, which can lead to postural dysfunctions and injuries. For example, when the pectoral (pec) muscles become tight they pull the shoulders forward creating a rounded shoulder posture that can worsen over time becoming the dreaded hunched look. As the shoulders tighten and creep forward this puts the shoulder complex in an abnormal position which sets in motion a cascade of problems:
- The posterior (back) muscles between the shoulder blades (scapula) begin to stretch and become weak
- Forces on the tendons, ligaments, and shoulder joint capsule are changed
- Risk of impingement syndome (pinching of tissues) increases in the shoulder
- Mechanics of the shoulder (glenohumeral joint) change increasing wear and tear
- Risk of arthritis increases
- Risk of muscular dysfunctions (tears, strains, tendonitis, etc) increases
As the shoulders begin to round, the neck will also creep forward to accommodate your new posture. This puts you at risk for problems with the neck (cervical spine), neck muscles, and even the TMJ (jaw).
This forward head rounded shoulders position can then begin to affect other areas, such as the low back.
This is just one example of how tight muscles can increase your risk of injury, as well as problems in other areas of the body. Although this example is dealing with the shoulder, the principles can be applied to any area of muscle tightness. It often begins as a small issue that many ignore, but gradually the cascade begins and other parts of the body are affected.
♦ To have any real effect, a stretch should be held for at least 30 seconds, although many recommend 1 min or longer. This allows for permanent changes in the muscle length to take place. ♦
Think of your muscles as rubber bands. If you stretch them quickly they go right back to the same shape, but if you slowly stretch further and further the rubber band will lengthen…creating permanent change!
To realize the benefits of stretching, I recommend to my patients that a stretch be held 30 seconds to 1 min and repeated 3 times. You should not push into the stretch, but move into the stretch until you feel a moderate stretch (no pain).
The best time to stretch has often been up for debate. Research has shown that our muscles respond best to stretching when they are warm. Therefore, the best times to stretch are after a gentle warm-up and after exercise.
These principles are used daily in physical therapy, yoga, and athletics. Check back soon for specific stretches!