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Stretching: The Truth

I have patients come in to me daily and tell me: “I know I don’t stretch enough.” I tend to get a bit confused and ask if they have been seeing someone who has prescribed stretching exercises. Most of them tell me “no” or that they were given stretches years ago that helped with their problem and they haven’t kept it up. The question I always ask is; “Who told you stretching is good for you?”

I think there is a misconception that stretching is a blanket answer to numerous problems; most commonly “tight” muscles. Stretching may temporarily address tightness in muscle, but what is the root cause?

Do we really know what stretching does? And the reasons we are doing it?

Here are some of the things that stretching does:

  • Loosen joints as a capsule stretches out
  • Decrease or squeeze blood out of muscles (potentially making it hypoxic or reducing oxygen supply)
  • Compresses or stretches cartilaginous structures such as discs in the back
  • Stresses tendons longitudinally which may temporarily weaken them
  • Stretches nerves (which aren’t designed to stretch)

Are these things that we look to accomplish with stretching? Some of them may be, but do we really know how and why? I don’t think that it would be a good thing to stretch before an athletic event as it may end up decreasing performance. In saying that, some dynamic exercises that include stretching and warming up muscles would be very beneficial. Some of these exercises may include lunging, leaps, hops and bounding.

The reason most people stretch is to “loosen muscle.” However, how much does a muscle really stretch? A muscle (which is the most stretchy structure in a link of structures including joint capsules, ligaments, tendon, and nerve) only stretches to 10% of its resting length. For example, if your quadriceps muscle (not including tendon) was 40cm long, you would only produce 4cm of stretch out of said muscle!

Did you know that if you stretch your hamstring with your leg straight, you actually get very little stretch out of the hamstring muscle? With your leg straight, your sciatic nerve is under tension. This is why stretching with your leg straight is so uncomfortable!

The bottom line is that though stretching may help you feel better temporarily; you need to address the root cause of the problem.

I am Dr. Mark Malowney, Langley Chiropractor with the 3PK Health Clinic and I am here to help you learn more about the cause of your pain and show you how to feel better. Do not hesitate to contact us for a Free Consultation.




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