Stretch Goals for Injury Prevention
With warmer weather and longer days ahead, this is the perfect time of year to step up your activity level. But before you hit the bike trails, tennis courts or running paths, make sure you take the time to limber up properly.
According to Dr. Edward Martinson, St. Luke's Physical Medicine & Rehab Associates, when it comes to exercise, there's a general perception that stretching isn't as important as boosting your heart rate. "In fact, greater flexibility and range of motion are key to reducing your risk of injury, as long as you don't overstretch your muscles," he says. The consequences of not stretching can include painful injuries, such as tendonitis, muscle strains and shin splints, which can sideline you for weeks or even months because, even though you may be active, individuals generally only work or exercise in a limited range of motion and soft tissue tightness develops.
People who have a chronic injury or condition, such as a pulled hamstring, may need to adjust their stretching routine to avoid further damage. But for most adults and teens, Dr. Martinson recommends the following tips for safe stretching:
- Warm up before stretching. Begin with 5-10 minutes of low-intensity walking or biking to warm up your muscles. Take your time, gently stretching before and after exercise.
- Limber up from head to toe. Stretching should involve all the major muscle groups, including your neck, shoulders, back, hips, thighs and calves, and make sure you give equal time to each side of your body.
- Be gentle. If you bounce while stretching, you may cause tiny tears in the muscles that can result in scar tissue, leading to decreased flexibility and more pain. Instead, hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds before gently releasing the muscle and perform each stretch 4-5 times on each side.
- Forget about "no pain, no gain". Stretching can feel uncomfortable, but it shouldn't be extremely painful. If the stretch is causing pain, release your hold until you feel tension without significant pain.
- Make it a habit. Stretching has a cumulative effect that delivers increased benefits over time. Unfortunately, without regular stretching, you won't be able to maintain greater flexibility or range of motion.
"As we age, our muscles, tendons and ligaments naturally lose elasticity," Dr. Martinson says. "But if you take the time to stretch, you'll have more time to enjoy the beautiful spring weather."