There are many things that we take for granted in life, and the flexibility within our body is certainly one. Like a thief in the night, our flexibility is slowly taken from us as we age. It is usually a gradual process, with no specific onset date. This is a result of many factors such as reduced fluid in our tissues, deterioration of our joints, leading to reduced motion and strength, and typically a less active, sedentary lifestyle. Unfortunately, stiffness in our soft tissues and joints can lead to injuries, pain, and reduced activity. This in turn, may lead to additional health problems such as obesity, cardiovascular problems, and chronic pain.
The target of reduced flexibility includes both our muscles, tendons and joints. Furthermore, due to our society’s extensive use of computers, we have accelerated these problems by creating more sedentary jobs. As a result, we see an earlier onset, and greater propensity of stiffness, in some common areas of the body. For example, an occupation that requires a great deal of data entry would likely involve an extensive amount of sitting. This would likely lead to tight neck muscles, tight chest and shoulder musculature, tight hip flexors, and hamstrings.
There are many different types of injuries that can occur with tight muscles and joints due to increased compression of our joints resulting in inflammation and pain. Furthermore, tight muscles can lead to muscular imbalances, and weaknesses, resulting in neck, shoulder and lower back pain. Also, when there is less elasticity in our muscles, they are more vulnerable to sprains and strains when they are placed under stress with activity. Finally muscle tightness may lead to tendonitis as the tendon becomes inflamed at the point where the muscle attaches to the bone.
The good news is that we can have a direct, and often, an immediate positive effect on the areas of tightness in our body by stretching. Appropriate stretches to some key areas of our body, may prevent some of the problems mentioned earlier. Effective stretching is best when it is consistent, and performed properly.
One key principle of stretching is that one should “warm up,” prior to stretching. This is because muscles are much like taffy in that when taffy is warm it stretches, but if it is cold, it tears. One good rule of thumb is to perform an activity that raises your core temperature, and causes you to “break a sweat,” prior to stretching. Also, perform your stretches slowly, and in a pain-free range of motion. Do not bounce when stretching, as this may cause muscle injury as the muscle may actually shorten as you are trying to lengthen it. Finally, hold your stretches for at least 15 to 30 seconds, and repeat each stretch three to five times.
As we attend to our health by performing activities that improve our strength, and endurance, do not forget to stretch, because it is an extremely important, and often overlooked component of health.
Not sure how to stretch properly? Check out these guides, complete with diagrams to aid your efforts:
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In celebration of the Flying Pig Marathon's 20th Anniversary on May 5 & 6, we've asked some of our physician and employee runners to blog about their experiences, share tips they've learned along the way, and provide inspiration for those who might interested in participating this year for the first time, whether for the 5K, 10K, relay, half marathon or full marathon.
Are you planning to walk or run one of the events? Be sure to share your preparation and inspiration photos on Instagram, Twitter or our Facebook page using the hashtag, #GetPiggyWithTCH, for a chance to be featured on our social media channels!