You may be thinking that stretching is something that is only necessary for runners, gym goers, footballers…you get the idea. However, you’re wrong! We all need to stretch. Why? Well, stretching is vital in order to protect our mobility and our independence as we get older.
Why is stretching so important?
Stretching helps keep our knee muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in our joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you put these muscles to work, they are weak and unable to extend all the way. This may put you at risk for knee pain, strains, and muscle damage.
What happens when a muscle is stretched?
Muscles are made up of individual fibers, and within these fibers are structures called sarcomeres. The sarcomere is the most basic unit that facilitates contraction of the muscle, and when a muscle is stretched, these units are also stretched which allows for the lengthening of the muscle fibers.
There is also a neurological component to stretching. Within each muscle there are stretch receptors (muscle spindles), they record the change in length of the muscle when stretching and send this message to our spine. This triggers the stretch reflex (myotatic reflex) which attempts to resist the change in muscle length by causing the stretched muscle to contract (time to give it a go- Stretch your leg out and feel your quad muscles contract).
The basic function of the stretch receptor is to help maintain muscle tone and to protect the body from injury.
Types of Stretching?
Dynamic stretching involves moving a limb through its full range of motion and repeating several times. It is best before an activity and is used to warm up the body, preparing it for certain movements. It is important to note that dynamic stretching utilizes controlled movements, and not jerky or rapid movements that could force a muscle to stretch or bring a joint past its normal range of motion.
Static stretching is the prolonged hold of a muscle in a lengthening position without any movement. Typically static stretches are held for 15-30 seconds and are thought to promote a greater range of motion in our joints. Static stretching is recommended to be preceded by an active warm-up or to be used at the end of a training session.
Tips to stretch safely
As with exercise there are some essential stretching safety tips to keep in mind, whether you’re at home or gym.
- Don’t consider stretching a warm up
It is best to stretch after some low intensity form of warm up, such as light jogging, walking or a gentle ride on a gym bike. If you stretch a ‘cold’ muscle, it could lead to knee injury.
- Avoid stretching into pain
It’s normal to feel tension when stretching, not pain. If it hurts you have pushed it too far, back off to the point where you don’t feel any knee pain.
- Make stretching a habit
Stretching can be a bit tedious. But you can achieve the most benefits by stretching regularly, at least two to three times a week. Remember to ease into it – take it slow to start with.
- Consult with a professional
Ensure that you consult with a GP, Physiotherapist or other professional personnel, for any stretching advice related to current or previous knee injuries.
Phil Page, ‘Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation’. Accessed 30th August, 2022.
The Importance of Stretching. Harvard Health Publishing. Accessed 30th August, 2022.
Kouichi Nakamura, Takayuki Kodama and Yoshito Mukaino. ‘Effects of active individual muscle stretching on muscle function’. Accessed 30th August, 2022.
No content on this blog, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.