Stretching has been recommended to patients for many years by manual therapists of all sorts. The general idea behind stretching is that it helps to increase the range of motion (ROM) of a part of the body by lengthening the muscles around that area. The theory has been that a tight or shortened muscles will decrease a person’s ROM which in turn can increase their chances of injury or slow down their recovery after an injury.
There are many types of stretching but for the discussion of this article we will be considering the most common type known as static stretching.
A static stretch can be defined as relaxing and lengthening a muscle as far as it will go until a gentle pull is felt and then holding it in that position for an extended period of time usually between 30-60 seconds and in some cases even longer. Repeatedly performing this procedure over a short period of time has been shown to increase a person’s ROM. With this finding however, more recent questions have been asked. Such as ‘What does this actually mean to a person’s body and is an increased ROM doing any therapeutic good?
Over the last decade studies have shown that in some instances static stretching before participating in athletic activities has actually increased rates of injury or shown to have no change in decreasing injuries. As well as this, static stretching before sports has been recorded as diminishing athletic performance, the complete opposite of what was originally proposed.
The real issue with static stretching is the implications it may have on a body that is pursuing structural rehabilitation through the application of ABC™ (the chiropractic technique we use).
When a body is biomechanically unstable, performing a static stretch on certain parts of the body may actually hinder therapeutic progress due to pulling the body into more unstable positions. For example, performing a static on the hip flexors of a person with an unstable lower back, may end up aggravating any symptoms while increasing the treatment time needed to re-establish a more stable body position. This is because it is working against what ABC is trying to achieve.
Rather than utilising static stretching it has been found that focusing more on joint mobility prior to exercise is a more useful preparation. This could include things such as swinging the leg back and forth for somebody playing a football code so as to take the hip through its ROM. This is not to say that static stretching should never be performed or that it is inherently bad for you but that it is important to be aware of how it can be affecting your body and impacting on your body’s progress.
Overall, there can be uses for static stretching and in some cases it can provide some much needed relief for a person when used properly and in the right situation. Be sure to discuss with your Chiropractor any other therapies or exercises you may be undergoing and how they may be affecting your body outside what is done in the clinic.