Today's topic is stretching. Yes and most people do not stretch regularly even at their massage therapist's insistence! :)
When muscles are in use or contracting, they are short. Muscles have an origin and insertion point. This is where they begin and where they end. Whatever joint they cross, gives you an idea to their function. When we use a muscle, we are bringing the origin and insertion points together. When we stretch a muscle we are lengthening and moving the origin and insertion points farther apart.
Knotted parts of your muscles are where that part of the muscle is stuck in working mode. So that part of the muscle is contracting over and over again. It's almost like pinching off that piece of muscle which makes it harder for proper blood flow to get to it. Kind of like a kink in a hose. Muscles are about 75% water. The blood flow brings hydration plus nutrients to the tissues that allow your body to heal and relax that tissue. This is part of how massage works, when you hear increases circulation. Yes, we can benefit overall circulation but we can also work out those kinks to improve the circulation to particular areas of tension.
This is all well and good. However, between treatments, if you are not making any changes to your posture, activities or water intake, you could be back to where we started by the time your next treatment rolls around. Yes, I would love for you to come in and see me twice a week but that's not realistic for most of our budgets.
This is where stretching comes in. Every single one of us should be stretching about 5-10 minutes a day. Whether you work out or not. In fact, even if you sit at a desk all day, your muscles will still need a stretch. The more active you are, the more stretching you should be doing because your muscles will be working harder.
Stretching increases circulation and flexibility. It brings healthy fluids back into the muscles, it shuts off the contraction phase and signals the nervous system to relax those muscles.
When you stretch a muscle, you are simultaneously using/contracting it's antagonist/opposite. For example, your biceps flex the elbow and shoulder and triceps extend the elbow and shoulder. When you stretch the biceps, you are contracting the triceps. When you stretch the triceps, you are contracting the biceps. So, even basic stretching is also making your muscles work. Over time, with routine stretching, you will be building stronger and more efficient musculature. You will be decreasing your chance of repetitive use injuries and increasing overall relaxation and flexibility in your body on your own.
I cannot stress enough how integral stretching can be for everybody but even more so with those of us with chronic pain and tightness.
I suggest starting with a one or two minute routine. This would allow for about four stretches. Each stretch should be held for about 30 seconds, it takes this long for the nervous system to acknowledge the stretch, the parts of the muscle that talk to the brain and say, "I'm relaxed or I'm not."
Another very important guideline for stretching is you don't want to feel pain. If you feel pain, you have gone beyond your threshold. You only want to feel the stretch.
We all have busy schedules and it's hard to find time for yet another thing to do. But stretching doesn't require much. It can be done at your desk, while you are making your breakfast, sitting on a train, waiting on line at the supermarket, etc.
It's something so easy to do and so worth it in the long run. Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi and Qi Gong are all great classes to take that will give you a foundation for stretching and improving your posture.
So, stretch, stretch, stretch your way to a healthier you! :)
Here's a chart with some basic stretches: