Human beings have been stretching for thousands of years, this is well documented and the practice of Yoga is now rightly, very much a part of Western culture. We are all aware of that relaxed “zen” mood that the practice can put us into. But apart from feeling great, what effect does stretching have on my area of focus- the musculoskeletal system? And most importantly to you, what benefit is there to being supple? Mats at the ready…
A multifaceted approach to pain and dysfunction will yield best outcomes long term. This is why many manual therapists will prescribe stretches, mobilisations and strength work to facilitate in-house clinical care. Both dynamic and static stretching are integral parts to this equation. We will only be focussing on static stretching during this article. For the sake of clarity stretching in this instance will mean lengthening a muscle and maintaining the tension and elongation over a specified time (think hamstring stretch). We are therefore strictly focussing on the muscle, fascia and tendons (soft tissue structures).
This is opposed to dynamic stretching i.e. with movement in which joint articulations are also involved and mobilised as well as soft tissues through a range of motion. Dynamic stretching will be perceived as a specific activity related warm up. These focussed, movement based stretches will be covered by myself at a later date.
The reason static stretching is essential is due to how people tend to fall into chronic pain patterns: being stuck in specific postures for extended periods and not having enough time to undo the tightness that develops within the fascial system, connective tissue and muscle. The key to remember with stretching is that it must all be relative; it is not possible to unravel 8 hours sat hunched over a desk with 2 minutes of breath workand stretching of an evening. The term “relative” is therefore integral to what we are trying to achieve.
Kataura et al., (2016)1 found that within a muscle “static passive torque was significantly lower after 60, 180, and 300 seconds of stretching compared with that after 20-second stretching, and stiffness decreased significantly after 180- and 300-second stretching”. Thus highlighting that time under tension is a must to make any gains!
That being said I would advise aiming for 10-15 minutes of an evening. This is to be performed daily initially with a view to maintaining flexibility with stretching sessions 3-4 times per week thereafter. The initial stage span will very much depend on where you are at and everyone will progress differently. 4-6 weeks would be the best commitment to make at first.
Having highlighted your area of focus (neck, lower back, hamstrings, quads) it is time to select two stretches to perform on each area depending on your site of stiffness and pain. As discussed previously each stretch for the lower limb and back will be held for at least 60 seconds. As the neck is a much more sensitive structure I advise only 30 seconds a side here before resting one minute and performing another round.
Many of you will have already been given stretches by your clinician to be performed on a regular basis however uploaded tutorials will be appearing very soon on the Harding Chiropractic Youtube page!
Isaac Fellick MChiro
1Kataura, S., Suzuki, S., Matsuo, S., Hatano, G., Iwata, M., Yokoi, K., Tsuchida, W., Banno, Y. and Asai, Y. (2016). Acute effects of the different intensity of static stretching on flexibility and isometric muscle force. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, p.1.