Stretching is important to healthy lifestyles and influences our ability to perform activities of daily living. It is important for our muscles to be strong but also flexible, and to keep the joints moving through their full range of motion.
- Range of motion (ROM) is the full movement potential of a joint. Each joint in the body has a specific range of motion.
- Flexibility is the ability to move a joint through its full ROM.
- Stretching is a key activity to develop and maintain flexibility. Stretching exercises will lengthen and lubricate muscles and connective tissue, as well as maintain or improve flexibility and mobility.
Individuals with arthritis should try to move each joint through its complete pain-free range of motion daily to prevent stiffness, loss of motion and deformity. Joint inflammation or damage, such as that caused by various forms of arthritis, may reduce mobility. Because of this limited range of motion, the tendons, muscles and ligaments may become shortened. This, in turn, may cause pain with movement, particularly at the end range of the joint movement. This decrease in mobility may make functional activities more difficult, or even impossible, to perform.
Stretching can provide the following benefits:
- Assist in maintaining normal joint movement and enhancing mobility required for activities of daily living.
- Helps to reduce stiffness and reduce injuries
- Help reduce the symptoms of various forms of arthritis.
- Increases blood flow to the muscles.
- Improved posture (stretching the tight muscle of a muscle pair)
- Stress relief.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing that does not restrict movement.
- The muscles should be warm before stretching. Thus, stretching after a workout is a great choice because the muscles are warm and pliable.
- Move slowly into the stretch. You should feel mild tension, but not pain.
- For static stretching to improve flexibility and mobility, generally hold the stretch for 10-30 seconds (gradually progress); 30-60 seconds may be more beneficial for older adults. Relax and repeat the stretch 2-4 times, aiming for approximately a total of 1 minute.
- You can also include dynamic stretching, that involves gentle, smooth and controlled movements. For example, alternating reaching the arms overhead.
- Be sure to stretch both sides of the body and target all areas of the body. Typically, 8-12 stretches will allow you to stretch all major muscle groups.
- Keep breathing throughout the stretch. Avoid holding your breath.
- Stretch at least two to three a week, but daily stretching will provide the greatest benefits.
- You can stretch almost anywhere – in your bed before you get up in the morning (muscles are warm), standing (use the wall, sturdy chair, table, etc. as needed for balance), lying on the floor, in the pool and, of course, in your chair.
Stretch your potential to stay healthy and fit with this often overlooked component of exercise – flexibility!