What we’ll cover
  1. What causes muscles to be tight?
  2. What does stretching do?
  3. Is dynamic or static stretching better?
  4. How long should I stretch for?
  5. Exercise and stretching programs

Why do we stretch?

“Stretching” is a staple of any warm up/cool down program for anyone that engages in physical activity or for muscles that feel “tight”.  It is almost customary for people to “stretch” but have you ever wondered what you are stretching? What does stretching actually do? As physiotherapists, we frequently advise our patients to stretch at some point in their rehabilitation. Our physiotherapist Vernon Mittal explores the concept of “stretching” and what is actually happening.

What causes muscles to be tight?

We often stretch because we feel that our muscles are “tight”. It is important to note that this “tightness” is often a feeling or sensation, rather than something physical or structure change. For example you may feel tight in the hamstrings but can still be flexible enough to touch the floor.

Anatomically, muscles are made to contract and relax. When muscles shorten or contract, this allows your limb to move. As a result, tightness and increased muscle tension over a period of time is often your body warning you about the frequency of tension. When you sit a desk for too long, your postural muscles (neck, shoulders, upper back) often feel tight. This is often as a result of muscle fatigue and sustained contractions as you have not moved frequently.

Conversely, after exercise or a workout, your muscles fatigue from the shear load you have put onto them, so you feel “tight”.

Another example can be following an injury. When we experience pain, our body subconsciously protects us and contracts muscles. When you roll your ankle, typically your calf feels “tight”. As a protective mechanism, it subconsciously contracts the calf muscles and the sustained tension elicits a tight feeling.

Our muscles need rest from different metabolic stresses, so rightly or wrongly, when we are tight, our body is telling us that there is a threatening condition in the muscles that requires movement correction, which typically means we stretch.

What does stretching do?

Stretching aims to reduce the tension in muscles by promoting increases in blood flow and reduce the feeling of tightness. This physiological response allows muscles to relax and move more efficiently.

Of course, there are different reasons why stretching can be prescribed and it does heavily depend on the issue at hand. For example, knee mobility can be restricted by reduced flexibly and muscle tightness. Stretching is often encouraged to improve movement and range of motion. Conversely, if you experience shoulder pain, your brain typically contracts surrounding muscles. When we encourage stretching around the shoulder the aim is not to improve the physical muscle length but rather to reduce the painful stimulus going to the brain, telling it that “it is okay to move without creating more damage”.

In the case of those with ongoing tightness/stiffness, the driver of this is often less movement related and could be caused by changes to the central nervous system; i.e. certain areas are more sensitive. Thus stretching would not be indicated, even though you feel tight.

Is dynamic or static stretching better?

There are different ways one can stretch. Static stretching involves holding a muscle stretch at the end range of its motion for a period of time whilst dynamic stretching involves moving your body through its entire range of motion.

I get asked frequently which type of stretching is best. This is not a clear cut answer as it again depends on the purpose for stretching. If we take exercise for example, recent research shows that dynamic stretching BEFORE exercise significantly improves muscle performance because you are essentially moving muscles for what they are about to do. It also incorporates multiple muscle groups promoting blood flow to more areas. Post exercise however, static stretching is best to reduce the fatigue level and tensions in muscles. It helps to relax the body overall.

If we take desk workers, then neck pain is common. If stiff, targeted static stretching of your neck muscles can help to improve neck range of motion but will not be as effective if someone has pain despite full motion. In this case, overall movement of the body would be more beneficial; i.e. dynamic stretching, as you are moving multiple joints and promoting greater blood flow, reducing muscle fatigue.

In our video below, Vernon demonstrates a range of static and dynamic stretches.

How long should I stretch for?

There is no clear answer. The key message is to stretch to comfort. If it feels good holding for 10 seconds, then hold for 10 seconds. Likewise, there is no clear guidelines on the. In total, a great warm up before exercise or sport should consist of at least 5 – 10 minutes of dynamic stretching.  These dynamic stretches should mimic similar movements that are about to be performed during training or performance. Static stretching should range between 5-30 second holds with repetitions of 5 – 10.

Exercise and stretching programs

There are many elements to stretching. Your physiotherapist is well placed to assist with guiding and tailoring a safe stretching and flexibility program.

If you are experiencing tightness or pain and, not sure whether to stretch, call our team at Malvern East Physiotherapy or book online.

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Back to school 🔙📚

Last week we were fortunate enough to head back to uni and refresh our anatomy knowledge at @latrobeuni in the anatomy labs. 

Thank you to the Latrobe School of Physiotherapy for inviting us! Last week our team celebrated another great year. 

Whilst Melbourne’s weather had its own plans, we were still determined to keep with the theme of ‘Italian Summer’. We let our hair down to master the art of mixology 🍸🍹followed by an Italian feast. Friday morning Run Club with the team. Practicing what we preach!

Staying stronger, healthier and happier. This time last week, our team was nervously completing their final preparations for @melbmara . 

Congratulations to our physiotherapists and ME community who ran on the day.

Dilen and Michael completed their first marathons. Abbey and Lizzie smashed out their first half. Last Sunday, our team headed down to see our own Matt Warren win a premiership in the VAFA Premier Men’s Competition. Last week our team dedicated a full day to professional development and team building. At ME Physio we pride ourselves on collaboration to put you at the centre of everything we do. 

Our team covered the latest treatments for back pain, financial well-being and finished off the day with salsa dancing. 

Many thanks to our guests including James Schomburgk from @the2ndvisitphysio , Financial Planners Tony Vikram & Cameron Bishop and the @salsafoundation At ME Physio, our focus is on helping you get stronger so that you can keep doing the things you love.

For Tony and Joan, healthier and stronger is being able to navigate the iconic Coast to Coast Walk in the UK! We recently had the pleasure of hosting Elise Bujor from Women’s & Men’s Health Physiotherapy to discuss women’s health issues across the lifespan. 

Our team pride themselves on staying up to date to ensure you’re able to stay healthier, happier and stronger. Huge milestones over the past few weeks with both Tom and Jude from @delasallefc doing their first bit of running in their rehab. 

Tom is on the return from an ankle dislocation whilst Jude is putting in the hard work following a knee reconstruction. Last week our team enjoyed some friendly rivalry at the footy. 

With finals around the corner, some of our team can now safely make holidays plans for September. We recently had the pleasure of hosting the podiatry team from @sespodiatry. 

Our physiotherapists Michael and Abbey presented on rehabilitation following Achilles surgical repair and ankle surgery. Last weekend some of our team got together to complete the 10 km run @runmelbourne. There was no finish line picture as some were keen to run another 15 km!

Whilst running wasn’t for some - brunch was well received by everyone.

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