Stretching is physical exercise. It helps to improve a muscle’s elasticity, tone and flexibility. It also works to enhance balance and increase blood circulation. By warming up the muscles and raising the heart rate (HR), stretching prepares the body for exercise with improved physical performance.
Stretching also increases production of synovial fluid that reduces friction in certain joints and helps to improve range of motion (ROM). ROM is the ability of a particular joint to move. [Pain, swelling, and stiffness associated with arthritis can limit the range of motion of a particular joint, reducing function and the performance of everyday activities. Stretching Helps!!]
However, stretching can be damaging if not performed correctly.
Ideally, before an exercise routine, warm-up with about 10 to 15 minutes of light aerobic exercise (walking, biking, eliptical trainer, etc.) before stretching. Then do about 10 minutes of dynamic stretching: slow controlled movements through the full range of motion. Risk of injury is reduced by performing these movement stretches.
At this point the muscles are warmed up and ready for your particular exercise routine. After the exercise routine is completed perform static stretching to realign your muscles and to cool down, bringing your HR back to normal.
After any physical activity, there can be a build-up of lactic acid. Stretching helps to reduce the level of lactic acid, helping to alleviate muscle pain and/or cramps.
General Stretching Guidelines
- Move the designated body part to a position of MILD stretch.
- If possible, increase the stretch to a position of mild discomfort but NOT pain.
- Maintain normal, relaxed breathing throughout the stretch. DO NOT hold your breath.
- If you feel unbalanced while doing a standing stretch, brace yourself with one hand, using a firm support such as a counter top, wall or heavy piece of furniture.