Coming Down the “Stretch”

As the cold autumn weather sets in, and people look to enjoy the outdoors a few last times before winter, the need to warm-up becomes increasingly important. Much as the soil stiffens from the cold winds, so to do our muscles, tendons, and joints. The soft tissues become less pliable, and less efficient, as the body pumps blood to more vital areas of the body. When a muscle, or tendon, is not properly prepared for activity, even the slightest movement can cause an injury (e.g. hiking, raking leaves, trimming trees, etc.).

As a chiropractor, nearly every patient I see has some form of soft tissue injury. These injuries range from strained/pulled hamstrings, partially torn rotator cuffs, and compensatory muscle spasms secondary to an injury elsewhere in the body. Perhaps, one of the most common forms of soft tissue injury is what’s known as a “guarding effect.” When an individual injures themselves, the muscles surrounding the site of injury become very tense in an effort to “splint” the inflamed area. This splinting is intended to limit the individual’s range of motion, stabilizing the injured area and avoiding further pain provocation. The issue, here, is that as the patient adopts this new position they are required to make up that range of motion in another region of the body. A perfect example of this is someone who injures their neck. Rather than turning their head, say with driving, the person is forced to turn their entire upper body. This unnatural movement pattern can then create pain and discomfort in the shoulders, mid back, and other related areas. It is for this reason that all of our patients are given simple at home stretches/exercises to perform in conjugation with their in office treatment plans. Typically, the more compliant a person is with their “homework,” the faster and more favorably they will respond.

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While most people presenting to a chiropractic office are in pain, there are those individuals simply looking to live a healthier lifestyle. As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Along these lines, one of the best ways to avoid injury is to maintain good muscle strength, control, and flexibility. The issue here is that many people aren’t quite sure of what exercises and stretches to perform.   While thousands of examples can be found online, in magazines, or learned from a gym buddy, not all advice is created equal (or easily explained). With all of the various forms of stretching out there (static, active, functional, ballistic, PIR, etc.), it can be a daunting task trying to figure out just what type of stretching is best for your specific needs.

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Professionally, I have found the combination of dynamic warm-ups and active stretching to be the most effective method of preparing for physical activity. This notion is further supported by recent research showing that traditional static stretches, when performed within an hour of physical activity, actually decreased muscle function and increased the likelihood of injury. A perfect example of static stretching is the old-reliable hamstring stretch in which an individual stands straight legged while trying to bend forward and touch their toes. The main issue here is that the muscles you are trying to stretch are required for pelvic stability while standing. As you bend forward, the posterior leg muscles are forced to undergo an eccentric contraction, where the muscles actually contract while being elongated (people who lift weights know this better as a “negative” exercise). This alone makes this stretch highly ineffective.

To learn a more effective hamstring stretch, for more information on dynamic warm-ups, or to schedule your Free Consultation today, call Full Function Chiropractic at (570) 601-4091.

 

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