Stretch! It's good for you. - The Oily Story
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Woman stretching

Stretch! It’s good for you.

Well, it’s never been my position to force people to take regular care of their bodies – we all have self will, right? However, there is one thing that I strongly, deeply and lovingly recommend you do on a regular basis – and that is to STRETCH.

If you don’t want to work out, if you don’t want a massage, if you can’t afford a chiropractic or osteopath session, then – you guessed it – stretch.

And here is why it’s important: For warming up, for cooling down and for rehabilitation of the muscles and surrounding fascia.

You may not be an elite athlete or suffering from an earlier injury, but you are physically active on a daily basis. You engage in repetitive work whether its picking up your kids, feeding the dog, chopping wood for the fire or clicking on the mouse at your work station. You also don’t always sleep stand or walk with the best posture, Eventually, your body will let you know there is a problem.

The body requires a warm up period to prepare itself physiologically with the correct body temperature, increase of blood flow and increase in neural sensitivities – this results in an increase in flexibility of the fascia (the connective tissue covering your muscles, tendons, ligaments, organs and glands). For example, when you first wake up in the morning, you feel stiff – bring your legs to your knees and hold for two seconds, and repeat about eight times. Then get out of bed. The shock to your body as your feet hit the floor wont feel as harsh.

As a warm down, the period after you have been doing your repetitive work helps in removing metabolic wastes (lactic acid and carbon dioxide) that cause stiffness and soreness afterwards. Stretching allows your muscles, tendons and ligaments to keep their optimal range of motion. Because the work never stops, right?

Concerning rehabilitation, if you’ve never suffered an injury of some sort that is rare and you can ignore this section. . For those who’ve been injured, take note. Stretching increases flexibility, improves blood circulation and oxygenation, which feeds the cells, tissues and organs – eventually restoring health to the damages area.

“When we injure muscle tissue, collage is spun in the fibers to help heal the muscle by cells called fibroblasts. The mass of collage usually remains embedded in the fibers. Massage therapists feel these as ‘lumps or knots’ when they massage a client. With stretching we are getting the deepest form of movement, the sliding of the fibers in a lengthened muscle breaks up this ‘glue’ and sends it into the bloodstream. This allows circulation to improve in the injured tissue. In other words, by stretching these disorganized fibers, proper alignment and therefore improved function can be restored. This realignment is what helps scar tissue heal faster.” [1]

The body is amazing in protecting itself and one of its defense mechanisms is the myotatic reflex. “Every muscle is subject to the myotatic or ‘stretch’ reflex, which opposes changes in muscle length, especially sudden or extreme changes. When a muscle lengthens beyond a certain point, the myotatic reflex causes it to tighten and attempt to shorten. This is the tension you feel during stretching exercises. The myotatic reflex is advantageous because it prevents, in many cases, muscle strains and (micro) tears. Without it, your muscles would be allowed to overextend and tear easily. But the myotatic reflex can be undesirable in cases where it prevents you from fully using your body.” [2]

In this case, we are referring to injury when your muscle needs to return to its full and unrestrictive use.

This is why I personally use active isolated stretching for my clients and myself. By using a stretch of no more than two seconds each time for 8 to 10 repetitions, the target muscle is able to fully lengthen without triggering the myotatic reflex (which will inhibit the stretch potential after the two seconds).

So whether you practice yoga movements, follow stretching exercises provided by your physician or alternative therapist, or a routine found in a health magazine, its important to do them regularly. Personally, as a massage therapist who has overcome sciatic pain and must keep in good shape due to the physical demands of the job, my stretching routine has become my greatest ally.

And no one is more surprised than me!

In the past, while I would stretch after a weight training session, occasionally I would engage in stretching for my back and hips that had been tightened due to sciatic pain. And only when the discomfort became too great.

It was only when I incorporated a yoga session specific to my work as a massage therapist that I began to feel the change – less pain in my back and hips and stronger upper legs and abdomen. I was going to bed and waking up with less discomfort and tightness.

After a massage session, when I would stretch my forearms and wrist for two seconds for 8-10 repetitions, it removed the stress and fatigue quicker than holding it for the usual 30 seconds that we have been taught over the years.

I was stunned. It is proof that stretching enhances your health and well-being and why I am such a strong supporter and advocate for it.

So, for your viewing, learning and whole body pleasure, I leave you with 10 quick exercises that you can incorporate into your lifestyle to maintain your flexibility, avoid strain injuries and be strong. You are so worth it!

by Winnie Greer

[1] Active Isolated Stretching. AIS Foundations 1. Elliott, Paul John. LMT, cAIS Instructor. Pg. 5

[2] Active Isolated Stretching. AIS Foundations 1. Elliott, Paul John. LMT, cAIS Instructor. Pg. 11

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