Features June 2014 Issue

Stretch It Out!

Gently stretching muscles expands your jointís motion and ability.

You may have read countless times that exercise is essential to improve and maintain joint health. Yet, it’s what happens before you exercise that is fundamental to regaining function and pain relief.

The proactive step to success is simply stretching, and the Arthritis Foundation recommends performing 15 minutes of stretching exercises every day. In addition to increasing stability, balance and ease of movement, stretching increases flexibility and improves the range of motion in your joints, according to Cleveland Clinic physical therapist and athletic trainer Jennifer Ochi, PT, DPT, ATC.

“Stretching your muscles first helps lubricate the joint, which will help move the joint all the way through its motion,” says Ochi. “A tight muscle limits overall movement.”

Static strength
To enhance your exercise routine, it is important to understand that not all stretches are equal—and some may even cause injury. A static stretch is used to stretch muscles while the body is at rest, and is recommended due to its ability to gradually lengthen a muscle to an elongated position.

“Static stretches are accomplished by gently getting to a stretch position and holding it for 20 to 30 seconds,” says Ochi. “A lot of people only hold a stretch for five seconds and quickly move on to stretching another part of the body. It’s important to hold it to gain the most benefit.”

Alternatively, dynamic stretches go for the gusto by using momentum and active muscular effort to stretch. Walking lunges are an example of a dynamic stretch, and these often result in overstretching, which can damage the muscles, explains Ochi.

“It’s also important to warm up before you perform a static stretch,” she says. “Don’t get right out of bed and stretch.

“By walking around and warming up first you’ll improve blood flow to the muscles to help them perform a better stretch,” says Ochi.

First things first
When thinking about static stretching, don’t assume bending over and touching your toes is helpful. In fact, you’ll only end up rounding the back and possibly injuring it.

“One of the most simple ways to start static stretching is to first lengthen the muscles in the hamstrings and quadriceps,” she says. “These stretches are beneficial for every arthritis patient.”

Quadricep stretches help strengthen the muscles in front of the thigh and also prevent cramping and aches that often develop with exercise. A standing quadriceps stretch is also recommended for alleviating the symptoms of back pain.

Tight hamstrings in back of the thigh should also be addressed. Stretching the hamstrings can increase flexibility and improve your range of motion, allowing you to perform everyday activities such as climbing stairs, and lifting or bending over more easily, says Ochi.

“Daily static stretching is like getting an oil change in your car,” she says. “You need to perform static stretches daily to maintain lubricated joints and gain benefits.”