We have seen an increase in stretching-related injuries lately which has prompted us to look into stretching for flexibility. Does improving flexibility really correlate with better function, as it is widely thought to? The short answer is maybe. It really comes down to how you are stretching.
Stretching for flexibility does work but the trade off is that it will weaken the muscles immediately after.
Oftentimes, people stretch to the maximum muscle length by doing 10 stretches and once they feel the joints are loosened up, they begin strength training.
Static vs. dynamic stretching for flexibility
The American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendation is to do 2-4 reps of static stretching followed by an active warm up, then your work out. However, this recommendation is a general guideline.
A static stretch is recommended for sports like gymnastics and dance. More dynamic stretches are recommended for sports like basketball and sprinting.
So what’s the difference between static and dynamic stretching? Static stretch is when you move the muscles to the end range of the joint and hold it. Stretching statically and holding for 15-30 seconds for 2-4 repetitions is helpful, but after 6 repetitions, over stretching the joint, joint sprain, and weakening the strength of the muscle occurs. So slow it down and do fewer repetitions.
Dynamic stretching is moving muscles through their full range of motion actively without resistance; 8-12 repetitions per set. Muscle fatigue shows that the muscles are losing their elastic properties.
Sprains and strains
Interestingly, stretching does not prevent injuries. However, there are cases where forcing the stretch at the end range can cause an injury, a sprain or a strain.
A sprain is an injured ligament, or fibrous structure that connects two bones at the joint. A ligament injury hurts when the joint is taxed to support weight. Patients often say that it’s fine until I try to do something, then it hurts.
A strain is when you inflame or partially tear the muscle or tendon. Patients complain that it aches and is persistent but doesn’t hurt when they use it. It hurts when they stop. RICE applies to both.
Patience is a virtue, as ligaments take 4 weeks to heal and tighten back up, while tendons take 6-8 weeks. Scar tissue is forming to stabilize and heal the injuries. This is good for the sprain, but can cause a problem for the strain. Tendons are meant to glide, but scar tissue prevents them from moving freely. So gentle range of motion to the full muscle length without force will help keep the tendon from scarring down. The key is “gentle” and do not force the end range.
So remember, stretching for flexibility in small quantities is beneficial. Do not force your muscles at the end ranges and you can cause injuries if you over do it. Flexibility is good, but getting all at once does more harm than good.
If you experience pain or an injury due to stretching, trust the experts at LB Hand Therapy to help. Make an appointment today!