Stretching is one of the best ways to keep your muscles healthy. Stretching regularly will help maintain your muscle strength and increase your flexibility. The more flexible you are, the better it is for your joints. Keeping muscles and joints in top condition helps with your day-to-day range of motion and can help guard against injury.
As beneficial as stretching is, there has been a shift in exercise theory regarding how you should stretch and when. For years, experts recommended stretching before you played sports or before you exercised. However, recent research suggests that stretching before a workout does not decrease your chance of injury. Instead, it is more important to do a warmup before exercising.
Do not confuse stretching for warming up. A good warmup will boost your heart rate. It will make your body warm all over because of the increased blood flow and oxygen to your muscles. Specifically, your warmup should make you break a light sweat and target the same muscles you’ll use during your sport or activity. Save your stretching for post-game or post-workout.
While stretching has long been associated with working out, stretching daily or a few times a week as its own activity can boost muscle and joint health. Adding it to your routine does provide a flexibility that decreases the risk of day-to-day injury. Plus, it helps reduce tension, increases efficient muscle movement, and can improve your posture.
Things to consider
No matter your age or condition, there are times when stretching could be a bad thing. For example, lower back injuries can be made worse by certain stretches that target your hamstrings and hip flexors.
If you push it too far or jerk your body, you could injure muscles, ligaments, or nerves just by stretching. Stretching should not be painful. A mild discomfort means you are getting a good stretch. If you feel pain, you should ease up or stop.
Also, know that stretching won’t prevent overuse injury. However, the overall benefits of regular stretching can make you nimble and minimize injury.
When to see a doctor
Before you start any type of exercise or sport, including stretching, you should consult with your doctor. Your doctor can suggest the best way for you to pursue activity that is safe for your body.
If, while stretching, you hear a popping noise paired with sudden pain, you should consult your doctor. If you strain a muscle and it does not respond to RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) after a few days, see your doctor.
In these situations, your doctor will be able to evaluate and grade the type of your injury. Some muscle tears require surgical repair. The grade of strain will guide your recovery time and level of activity as you recover.
Questions for your doctor
What are the best stretches I can do for my body?
Can stretching improve my balance?
Can I stretch without warming up first?
How often do I need to stretch to maintain my flexibility?
Is there a preferred order for stretching muscle groups?
I stretch every day. Why aren’t I as flexible as my friend?
I’m pregnant. What stretches should I be doing, and which should I avoid?
I’m a senior citizen. How much time should I spend stretching each week?