I was recently asked from a well-concerned parent about her teenagers lack of flexibility and what the importance of stretching is for her athlete. Stretching can often take a back seat to your general exercise routine and sport-related activities, but it is an essential part of any conditioning or physical therapy program. Stretching decreases the risk of injury or re-injury and promotes wellness.

Why is stretching so important?
Stretching the right way will help improve flexibility and make it easier for you to move. Stretching properly can increase and improve motion in your joints (mobility), increase blood flow, and decrease feelings of stiffness. Other potential benefits of stretching can include: reducing delayed onset muscle soreness, increasing athletic performance, and reducing the risk of tendon or muscle tears. It is important to stretch correctly and know which muscle groups you want to stretch. Often, the muscles that tend to be tight are the hamstrings, hip flexors, quadriceps, calves and chest muscles. If proper technique is used when stretching, it will help improve flexibility and increase range of motion. This will increase blood flow and decrease stiffness, in turn decreasing the risk of injury or re-injury.

When to stretch
It is recommended that you perform static stretches AFTER exercising, engaging in strenuous physical activity or participating in an athletic event. Static stretches target specific muscles based on the position you are in with the intent to elongate just past the point of a moderate pulling sensation. The static stretch should be held in the same position for 30-60 seconds and repeated two to three times. For an athlete, it is common to perform a dynamic warm-up (such as high knees, butt-kicks, shuffles, etc) prior to sport related activities and static stretches after activities. The American College of Sports Medicine guidelines recommends stretching activities be done at least two days per week. It is also important to know and understand which stretches would benefit you based on your limitations and desired activity participation.

Stretching is encouraged:
–  When range of motion is limited.
–  Prior to or after vigorous exercises.
–  As a component of your sport-specific conditioning program, team warm-up/cool down and before/after a participation in a sporting event.

When is stretching not encouraged?
–  When someone has excessive movement in their joint(s)
–  An athlete who has experienced a recent fracture
–  After sudden onset of inflammation or swelling
–  When you feel a sharp pain when attempting to stretch

Tips on how to stretch
–  Know which muscle you want to stretch
–  Make sure muscles are warmed up prior to stretching
–  Hold each stretch for 30-60 seconds
–  Keep the stretch pain-free
–  Stretch regularly, at least 2-3 times a week

It is important to remember that just because you perform stretches doesn’t mean that you will never get injured. Stretching won’t prevent an overuse injury that is predominant in sports that involve the repetition of similar movement patterns. There are other important factors such as strength and endurance training, essential to reducing the risk of injury. Please ask us if you need a referral to physical therapy if your child need assistance with an exercise and stretching program.

-Sarah Caudle, PA-C