How stretching can help prevent sports injuries and improve recovery Stretching
Pre-activity stretches have been shown to support increased athletic performance, decrease the likelihood of injury and minimise delayed onset muscle soreness.
It’s a simple and relatively quick activity, so why do so many people skip it?
Should I warm-up before I start stretching?
Rule number 1 of stretching before exercise is to at least do a short warm up beforehand. Think of your cold muscles as rubber bands that are a bit old and dry – they may snap if pushed too hard.
Warming-up prior to activity helps increase your heart rate, core temperature, respiratory rate, blood flow and ultimately delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles you are about to stretch.
But how specifically can stretching prevent sports injury?
It’s important to keep as many of your muscles as possible flexible and supple. Whether you’re playing volleyball, soccer or rugby league, all your muscles are working together and playing some part, not just a select few.
Don’t forget to stretch all major muscles and their opposing muscle groups
Take any sport that involves running for example; muscles in your upper body play a vital role in ensuring your body stays balanced during the running motion. Focusing all of your energy on your legs without stretching your biceps and shoulders could lead to imbalance and injury.
- Stretching helps reduce fatigue
Fatigue can be an issue for anyone and a major problem for those who exercise. Fatigue causes your physical and mental performance to decline.
Stretching helps increase flexibility which can prevent the effects of fatigue setting in. For every muscle in the body there is an opposite or opposing muscle and if the opposing muscles are more flexible, the working muscles do not have to exert as much force against the opposing muscles.
When you stretch, each movement of the working muscles actually takes less effort.
- A stretching program can help to improve muscle balance
Hamstring tears are a common injury in running sports that are often caused by strong quadriceps and weak, inflexible hamstrings. The body doesn’t like imbalance and inflexibility puts a great deal of pressure on the hamstrings and can result in a muscle tear or strain.
- Stretching helps to increase your range of motion
By increasing your range of motion, you are increasing the distance your limbs can move before causing damage to the surrounding muscles and tendons. For example, when an AFL player kicks the ball the muscles and tendons at the back of the leg are put under huge strain. By increasing the flexibility and pliability of those muscles, the legs can travel further forward before a strain or injury happens.
Some simple stretching tips
- Stretch Gently and Slowly
By stretching slowly and gently you will help to relax your muscles, helping to avoid those nasty muscle tears and strains that can be caused by rapid, jerky movements.
- Stretching is NOT meant to be painful
I repeat, stretching is not meant to be painful. Some people will tell you that to get the most from your stretching you need to be in constant pain. This is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when stretching. As crazy as it sounds, stretching is actually meant to be pleasurable and relaxing.
When your muscles are stretching to the point of pain, your body uses a defence mechanism called the stretch reflex. This is your body’s way of trying to prevent serious damage occurring to your muscles, tendons and joints by contracting them.
- Breathe slowly and naturally while stretching
Have you ever checked yourself while you were stretching and realised that you were subconsciously holding your breath? Holding your breath creates muscular tension which in turn makes it very difficult to stretch effectively. Focus on breathing slowly and deeply during all stretching exercises, picture your muscles relaxing and feel the blood flow and increased delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles.
Stretching after exercise has a different purpose to stretching before exercise
The purpose of stretching before exercise is to help prevent injury while stretching after exercise aids in the repair and recovery of the muscles and tendons. By working the muscles and tendons, stretching helps to prevent tight muscles and delayed muscle soreness that usually accompanies strenuous exercise.
At Fixio our goal is to help reduce the pain you’re experiencing, restore function, increase range of motion, and get you back to doing the things you love. If you’re looking to add pre and post-workout stretches into your routine and want to know which stretches would best benefit you, book in an appointment with one of our physiotherapists.