by Stacy Choquette, PTA
Most of us have heard at one point in our lives that you need to stretch before or after a workout or activity, but how many of us actually do this? Maybe you have a morning stretching regime or attend a yoga class a couple times a week, however, do you know WHY stretching keeps us healthy?
Muscle flexibility is a large part of keeping a healthy body. While strengthening and working on cardio endurance is also very good for us, flexibility is critical in an active lifestyle. No matter how much strength your muscles have or how many days a week you commit to activity, if you lack flexibility you leave yourself at a much higher risk for injury. Strengthening your muscles without incorporating a stretching program into your routine leaves your muscles strong but in a shortened state. Your muscle becomes powerful but in a very small arc of motion. This means your muscles will be very effective but only in small movements. When you need to push your muscle beyond its flexibility, like lunging quickly for a ball, your muscle will only stretch so far then the fibers will begin to tear. This leaves you with what is called a muscle strain. Depending on the force of the movement and how far beyond the muscles flexibility you reach the strain can be mild to severe in nature.
Keeping a daily stretching regime will greatly help prevent these tears from happening. Along with strengthening, if you can lengthen your muscles through stretching, when sudden quick movements happen your muscle will be able to perform accordingly without injury. Think about slipping on ice in the winter. You’re not expecting this to happen but if your muscles are more flexible they may be able to stretch and react in time to stop you from falling and tearing muscle fibers. Flexibility also helps with balance and ease of movement in daily life. Desired flexibility will allow your body to move as it should instead of compensating due to loss of balance or lack of range of motion. This becomes increasingly important as we age. You can check with your doctor or physical therapist for what normal flexibility should be and what is appropriate for you and your lifestyle.
Stacy Choquette is a Physical Therapy Assistant at Boston Sports Medicine