Defining flexibility: The degree of ROM (range of motion) around a joint. Optimal flexibility is defined as a balance of a joint’s ability to maintain the integrity of a joint. As you may already know, flexibility is a major component of physical fitness. A balance of flexibility and strength is necessary for the muscles in your body to move with smoothness and efficiency. Muscles, connective tissue, ligaments and tendons need to be supple and pliable enough to allow normal ROM around a joint in the body. Restricted joint motion often leads to aches, pain, joint disorders and in extreme cases, disability.
Massage therapy directly influences a person’s ability to maintain or increase flexibility in the body. Incorporating stretching techniques can greatly contribute to an individual’s ability to overcome deficits in flexibility as well as optimize the individual’s ROM through the body. Several common factors that cause people to struggle with inflexibility are:
-loss of muscle elasticity
-periods of rapid gain in height or weight
These factors can lead to poor posture, increased risk of injury, poor overall muscle health, feeling energetically drained and/or psychologically defeated, having to restrict your physical activities, and a decrease in circulation.
You’ve probably heard over and over…and over again from your trainer, massage therapist, chiropractor yoga instructor, sports coach- “Stretch!” There is a reason for this (besides the factors listed above)- the benefits! Some of the main benefits are:
– increase circulation (remember this is how our muscles are fed)
-increase muscle relaxation
-promote body awareness
-elongate fascia (see my previous post on fascia)
-relieve muscle and joint tightness
-decrease injury risk
– feels GREAT
We’ve covered the what and the why, now lets go over the how. There are many methods of stretching, but I am only going to cover the basics.
-Passive Stretching: with passive stretching there is no active muscle contraction made by the individual being stretched. This type is stretch can be performed by a massage therapist, trainer, sports coach, dance coach, etc. The action should be slow and steady while using gentle movement to lengthen and soften muscles.
-Active Stretching: Motion and stretch is done by the one’s own self- the kind of stretching you do at yoga class, before and after workout or on your own (ideally every day) for self care.
-Active Assisted: The individual performs active contraction of a muscle group until the limit of flexibility is reached. At this point, the ROM is completed by your stretching buddy. There are also stretches that require the stretch-ee’s resistance, mainly when using neuromuscular techniques (look forward to my future blog post on neuromuscular techniques).
Lastly, when should we stretch? Before exercise: to warm the muscles and increase elasticity to reduce risk of injury. After exercise: to increase blood flow to the tired areas of the body, to help your muscles carry away metabolic waste (waste produced by cellular metabolism), to decrease muscle soreness after your workout called DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and to restore tight muscles to their before-exercise length. If you feel lost on how to begin stretching and can’t go to a yoga class, youtube has some great content on stretching- just make sure the source is reliable. Being reminded to stretch can be annoying and feel like a chore- but remember, not only is it good for you, it FEELS GREAT! It’s never too late to start a new healthy habit- make today that day!
Rielle Gordon, LMT at Seattle Massage Oasis