Stretching 101: Frequently Asked Questions about Stretching for Physical Therapy

February 4th, 2015
Stretching 101: Frequently Asked Questions about Stretching for Physical Therapy

Hip flexor stretch

Everyone that’s ever been to PT is familiar with some form of stretching. Today’s blog is here to dispel some myths associated with stretching and address a lot of the questions we receive in our Physical Therapy clinic concerning the need to stretch. Enjoy!

  • What is stretching and why do I need it? In a nutshell, stretching is the act of lengthening a muscle (to be technical, it’s the “muscle tendon unit” that lengthens).  It is a way of improving flexibility. The daily activities we perform throughout our life shorten and weaken our muscles, creating imbalances and deficits that put us at risk for injuries. By stretching, we correct those imbalances and prevent injuries.
  • Are there different types of stretches? Yes. The two most common forms of stretching are Static and Ballistic stretching: Static stretching is the most commonly performed type performed in our Physical Therapy clinic and it’s characterized by putting the muscle in a lengthened position and holding it there for a prolonged period of time with the aim to improve flexibility. Ballisticstretching is when you’re taking the muscle near end-range and performing a bouncing motion. This is a type of active warm-up before a sporting event to improve muscle elasticity, but not appropriate for everyone.
  • Won’t stretching diminish my performance before exercise or sport? Not necessarily. It all depends on the type of stretching performed. As mentioned, Ballistic stretches can be a favorable and effective warm-up. It is not recommended that runners/sprinters perform static stretches immediately before an event, based on available research.
  • I am not an athlete, do I still need to stretch? Yes. Stretching is critical for everyone’s function and safety, particularly in older populations. As we age, our muscles become stiffer and less elastic, which can limit our balance, ambulation, and function. For older adults especially, stretching is critical for fall prevention.
  • But I am already in pain, won’t stretching make me hurt more? No! By stretching with proper form and body mechanics, research and clinical evidence suggests that stretching can actually decrease delayed-onset muscle soreness and improve your symptoms.
  • How often do I need to stretch? The literature shows that gains associated with stretching last for about 24 hours, which means that stretches be performed DAILY for best results. This is especially important with individuals who sit throughout the day at work or driving.
  • How long do I need to hold the stretch? Evidence suggests stretching anywhere from 15-60 seconds, 4-6 times per muscle group is effective.
  • I used to stretch my hamstrings when I did PT two years ago, so I don’t need to stretch them again, right? WRONG. A recent study showed that following a 6 week stretching program, subjects only retained their muscle flexibility gains for 2-4 weeks after stopping their stretches! This means that we lose our flexibility much quicker than we can gain it, driving home the point that we need to be diligent and consistent with our stretches.

Stay limber,

Cole Racich, PT, DPT