The purpose of stretching; is it actually doing anything, or is it nothing more than a trendy fad?
Many people wonder whether stretching actually achieves anything more than a mere psychological ‘feel-good’ experience performed to prepare a person before playing sport? To add a little more spice to this debate, we might as well throw in the question of why, when and how a person should do this questionable stretching thing? In order to shed some useful light on the matter in the space we have, we really should explore a few issues, that once understood, have had a profound effect on back and neck pain sufferers all around the world.
Let’s first look at the question of why a person should stretch. Stretching, when done properly, actually accomplishes a number of physiological effects. Stretching represents precisely 50% of the essential elasticity factor vitally necessary for soft tissue, particularly muscles, to function as they should. Without elasticity, in other words, the capacity for muscles to lengthen and shorten, the joint [or joints] that the muscle crosses, cannot achieve the movement the particular joint is capable of. When a joint cannot function effectively, pain usually results.
Exercise, particularly resistance exercise, produces the other 50%. This is due almost entirely to the fact that resistance exercises, by the very nature of the way in which the mechanics of muscles operate, produce a capability for the joint to create movement by shortening its length across that joint [or joints]. Simultaneously, as that muscle contracts [or shortens within itself telescopically to create the movement], the corresponding [or antagonist] muscle lengthens to facilitate the movement. Failure for this to occur will result in joint dysfunction, as well as previously stated, pain. So, if resistance exercises exclusively create the capacity for muscle fibres to shorten, then what creates the capacity for the essential lengthening of muscle fibres to allow the joint to move? Of course, you are way ahead of me, and of course, it is stretching, provided, of course, it is done effectively.
Might there be any other arguments as to why stretching is necessary? And not surprisingly, there are. Stretching minimises the frequency and inclination for muscles to tear during the process of rapid shortening or lengthening. Additionally, stretching has a major role to play in eliminating waste products from muscle fibres, particularly waste products that have been deposited in muscle fibres as a by-product of exercise. Stretching, if performed correctly, also plays a crucial role in detoxifying muscles as well as the removal of fibrous adhesions.
Now, let’s have a glance at the when factor. In order to minimise the risk of injury in sport, particularly in any form of contact sport, or in sports that involves anything more than a token amount of jarring or weight-bearing activities, stretching is essential to effectively prepare the muscle fibres for those activities. And in keeping with the content of the previous paragraphs, effective stretching should also be comprehensively performed after completion of the sport activities but before cooling down has occurred. This is also true for any non-sporting strenuous or weight-bearing activity such as lifting or carrying. This may seem obvious to some, however if you cast your mind back to the past, can you, with confidence, say that this was routinely done each and every time it should have been? And if it had, might you now not be suffering the pain that has led you to seek assistance in recovery? The glaring omission so far in the when argument is that effective stretching should also be done both at the beginning and the end of a stressful or demanding day, as well as at the beginning of the next.
This ‘seemingly obvious to some’ function is essential in order to de-compress the spine [did I happen to mention that effective stretching also de-compresses the spine?….No?…perhaps I was just keeping that little gem until the end], so that the new day doesn’t begin with a carried-over compressed spine from all the things you were required to do yesterday, that is even before you’ve added today’s demands on top an already compressed and painful spine. You see, apart from the other physiological things that stretching does, it also is one of the most, if not THE most crucial, essential, and self-enabling ways to achieve one of the most foundational requirements for the recovery of any back and/or neck pain sufferer. De-compressing the spine, on a daily basis, is absolutely vital for any/all sufferers if they are to restore spinal function and reduce pain.
The remaining consideration is the one that all else pivots upon; it’s the how factor. Many people state that they regularly perform stretching routines, yet upon investigation it generally becomes apparent that the stretches being done are NOT the ones critically needed to recover, AND the ones being done aren’t even being done in a way that can possibly bring about any sort of benefit. Let’s look at it this way; I can lay out all of the pieces of a brand new machine on a garage floor, but if I don’t know how the pieces fit together, all I have is a collection of parts, and I certainly don’t have anything that works the way it should.
Clearly, if we are to have a body that works the way it once did, we must have all of the parts in working order and arranged in a cohesive and organised manner. If we need any further convincing that stretching plays a fundamental and integral role in that process, we need to look no further than the animal kingdom, particularly as a dog, a cat, a horse, or just about any other animal we can think of, and the very first thing most of these animals do after waking up, is to stretch. When we consider that most of them have horizontal spines, whereas ours are vertical, at least for much of the time, and especially when we are carrying extra loads, the need for us humans to stretch regularly and effectively jumps up our priority scale about ten thousand points. Add the lesson from the feathered varieties, and we learn that birds actually stretch almost continuously throughout the day, and not just when they wake up. So, remind me again who the intelligent ones are??!! Stretching is far more than a trendy fad, and when done correctly, it is an essentially vital ingredient for any back or neck pain sufferer in their quest to recover [or then again, you might consider surgery, a lifetime of medication, or acceptance of hopelessness, but that’s most probably not why you’ve elected to locate and read this article].