Should You Be Stretching?

A couple months ago, I had a patient come in with serve pain in her legs. She was training with her boyfriend to run a full marathon. Turns out she was overdoing her running regiment and pulled the muscles in both legs. She was in severe pain, and was taking 8 advils a day, just to survive and get through her day. The good thing was that she knew medication was only a temporary solution. She wanted to heal her injuries and she knew chiropractic could help. When she came into the office and told me about her pain, my goal was not only to get her out of pain as quickly as possible but to also make sure that her injuries healed properly.

It took about 6 treatment to get her off the pain medication, at which point I allowed her to start getting back into her running routine slowly. The next step was to educate and empower her with information and practical solutions she could do on her own to make sure this injury wouldn’t happen again.

After talking to her, I realized that she was missing a major component in her workout regimen: Stretching! When I brought it to her attention, she responded with the typical, “I know, I know, I should stretch before and after working out, but do I really need to stretch?” “It’s so boring.” “Does it really even do anything?”

The Answer is YES it makes a HUGE difference. But what you really need to know is that there are different kinds of stretches you need to do before working out, and after. There are two types of stretches that everyone should integrate into their workout or sports regiment, Static and Dynamic stretches. The key to getting the most out of your stretching is WHEN to incorporate which type of stretching into your workout.

Static Stretching is your basic stretching that everyone is familiar with. You stretch a muscle to tension and then you hold. For example, touching your toes and holding it for 15-30 seconds. This type stretching is beneficial to relax and elongate the muscle and improves flexibility and limberness of joints. The down side, it compromises muscle strength and power, which decreases performance and makes you more susceptible to getting injured during activity. So static stretching is best to performed AFTER your workout or activity. It allows your body to cool down, relax and decrease your heart rate. You should focus on the major muscles used during the activity, and hold the stretches for 15-30 seconds.

Dynamic Stretching on the other hand, are movement- based stretches. This type of stretching warms up the body without compromising muscle performance. The goal is to increase blood flow, mobility and range of motion of the muscles and the joints. This allows for improved muscle elasticity and contraction, intern improving your performance and decreasing chances for injury. It best to perform dynamic stretches before and during activity. I also recommend dynamic stretching to my patients when they feel sore, or “tight”. Dynamic stretches performed before activity should mimic the movements you’re about to perform. For example, if you’re going for a run like my patient, dynamic stretching should include leg swings (hamstrings), walking lunges (hip flexors) and walking knee ups (hip mobility). On the other hand, arm circles and twisting stretches should be performed if you’re pitching for softball. The more specific the stretches are to the activity your about to perform, the better.

Once my patient understood these concepts, she integrated them into her routine and in no time she was able to get back on track with her training. More importantly, she finished the marathon without the old injury coming back, or any new injuries. The stretching routine we created kept her in the game and she was able to accomplish her goal!

Written by Dr. Roshani Desai, D.C.