Me: “Do you stretch?” Patient: “Not as much as I should.” Most people know they should be doing stretching and traction. They know they feel better when they do stretch, but they still don’t. Why don’t people stretch?
They’re stretching the wrong areas and not seeing the benefits that they should.
Some things to consider; you may not be stretching long enough, at the right time, or the right areas.
How long should you stretch?
Most people don’t stretch nearly long enough. When it is time to stretch (more on that in a minute), you need to hold your stretches for at least 30 seconds, 60 seconds if you’re over 40 years old. It takes that long for you to see any real change. Stretching shorter than that means you just did a little warm up, you won’t see any lasting changes to your flexibility.
When should you stretch?
The time of day and what you’re doing makes a big difference in the type of stretching and how long you should stretch. Before you workout, it’s really best to do very short stretches. Literally 3 – 5 second stretches to actively warm up your muscles.
Since muscles, ligaments, and tendons warm up at different rates, it doesn’t do you much good and could actually lead to an injury. Pre-workout, you should do a lighter version of whatever you’re about to do. Playing basketball, do some light dribbling and shooting. Getting ready to go for a run, do a light jog until you feel like you are loosened up.
For this reason, I have to believe that stretching at the end of your day would be more effective in improving flexibility than rolling out of bed and doing a big stretching routine. If you do have to knock it out in the morning, try to walk around a bit first or jog in place. Do something to get the blood moving before you start stretching.
What areas should you stretch?
This is a tough one to answer because it really depends on what you do all day. Your daily activities will determine your posture, your weak areas, your tight areas, and what you should do about them. Since most of our patients are sitting at a computer all day, I’ll focus on that.
Generally speaking, you don’t need to stretch the back of your neck or your lower back. The only areas on the back of your body that you will need to stretch are your hamstrings and your hip rotators. Most areas of your body that are tight are on the front of your body.
You’ll want to stretch your quadriceps, your hip flexors, and the front of your neck. This can be tricky – so here’s a video I did talking about just that.
Most importantly, stretching needs to be done consistently to make any difference at all, just like all healthy habits, check out the blog post I did speaking on this very issue here.
I include talks about traction because this is almost always the very next question patients ask, “how do you feel about those things where you hang upside down?” Inversion tables are available at a lot of stores. You can spend a little or a lot, depending on what you’re looking for.
The more expensive ones tend to give you a lot of angles you can hang upside-down from, and they have an easy “turn right side up” button. Cheaper models will require a bit of core strength to return to an upright position.
I do like the idea of an inversion table, but I don’t enjoy them myself. Hanging upside-down is not fun for me, nor is it for everyone. I would recommend visiting a store like Relax The Back. They’ve got a lot of them and you can try them out yourself.
We do lose a lot of disc and joint space during the day due to gravity, so inversion tables make sense. They’re not a replacement for a chiropractic adjustment or stretching but they can be very helpful for a lot of people. Be sure to ask your chiropractor first if you should buy one. They’ll know more about your case and can give you specific advice. Another good alternative (and much more powerful) is utilizing spinal decompression therapy.