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Monday Medical: In pain? Try stretching

Susan Cunningham/For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Want to decrease aches and pains, while improving your fitness? Then consider stretching.

“Consistent stretching is an important part of maintaining the ability to stay active, whether you’re running, walking, biking or doing most any activity,” said Missy Amato, a physical therapist at UCHealth SportsMed Clinics in Steamboat Springs and Hayden.

Below, Amato outlines why stretching matters and how to do it right.



Why stretching works

When you stretch, you lengthen your muscle fibers. That can help prevent injuries by taking stress off of joints and building resiliency in muscles.

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“If muscles are really tight, they pull the joint surfaces together and create extra friction. That can lead to joint pain and inflammation,” Amato said. “And sometimes you have to take a quick step to catch yourself, or you may have to increase intensity to power through a steep climb. If your muscle fibers are short and tight, they may pull rather than stretch, and perhaps tear.”

It counteracts repetitive motion

Activities such as running, walking and biking involve repetitive motion, which can irritate muscles and joints.

“Small irritations or frictions can get magnified into a much bigger problem because you’re doing that same motion over and over,” Amato said. “One of the best ways to counteract that is to be really consistent with stretching.”

Stretching addresses pain

Though stretching may not solve every issue, especially when other issues such as muscle imbalances or core instability are involved, stretching is almost always a tool Amato uses with her patients.

“So many of the nagging, overuse injuries come down to insufficient muscle length,” Amato said. “To counteract that, as both preventative and rehabilitative medicine, stretching is huge.”

It’s even more important with age

Younger people may be able to get away without stretching much. But as the years build up, stretching becomes a necessity.

“Our bodies don’t tolerate that use and abuse as well as we age,” Amato said. “Personally, I’ve found that as I get older, I’ve got to stretch a lot to maintain my ability to run. Ten years ago, I could get away without stretching.”

Choose a comprehensive stretching program

Be sure to use a range of stretches to loosen your hips, thighs, calves and trunk. Amato recommends checking out http://www.stretching-exercises-guide.com, or working with your physical therapist to find a program that works for you.

Stretch when muscles are warm

As you start to exercise, extra blood flows into muscles and loosens them, so they’re better able to respond to stretching. While you should still warm-up before a workout, Amato recommends stretching at the end of your workout.

“You get more bang for your buck if you stretch when your muscles are warm and loose,” Amato said.

Hold your stretch

Do two to three repetitions of each stretch, and hold each for at least 30 seconds.

“Less time than that and you’re not giving those muscle fibers time to lengthen,” Amato said.

A stretching program should take about ten to fifteen minutes once a day if you’re just looking to maintain your flexibility, or twice a day if you’re experiencing pain or nagging issues and need to improve your current flexibility.

“It will be much more effective if a little more time is put into it,” Amato said. “But some stretching is better than no stretching.”

It shouldn’t hurt

A stretch may feel uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be painful, sharp or make you grimace.

Address issues early

Possible injuries are much easier to address sooner rather than later.

“You’re going to get over it much faster if you address it when it’s fresh, rather than if it’s been going on for weeks or months,” Amato said.

Give stretching a try: it might just help some of your aches and pains fade away.

“Stretching is a great place to start,” Amato said. “And it almost always ends up being a part of the recipe to address a problem.”

Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at cunninghamsbc@gmail.com.


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