Stretching feels good and gives a sense of relief, especially when moving from a stationary position after long periods of time. However there is very little evidence to suggest that stretching alone has any long term benefits for weak and stiff muscles!
As we stretch we increase blood flow to the muscles, which in turn helps release endorphin's similar to when we exercise, which feels good and helps ease pain, but it isn't necessarily beneficial for physical health. A great relief from those long days in front of the computer, but will it fix that achy back?
If you have read any research published articles on the benefits stretching, you'll see that very quickly they refer to the benefits 'felt' relative to movement, exercise, strength and cardio fitness rather than those of actually 'stretching muscles' for improved performance or injury prevention.
Based on medical research (Ingraham, 2003), 'Stretching will not elongate muscle fibers unless done very frequently over a very long time!' It also doesn't add to muscle growth or increase strength.
Overall, the evidence suggests that increasing range of motion beyond function through stretching is not beneficial and can actually cause injury and decrease performance. When we stretch out a hamstring or upper back, we are usually stretching weak , tired muscles rather than strong, well conditioned ones. The problem just keeps coming back.
'Stretching has limited evidence of effectiveness in preventing injury or reducing the risk of recurrence.
The quickest way to increase muscle flexibility is through 'Eccentric strengthening exercises' (O'Sullivan, 2012).
That is effectively loading as you lengthen muscle , opposite to the loading as you flex. A simple example would be, slowing on the down movement of a bicep curl as the weight is lowered and the bicep gets longer.
Stretching is transient, so is a short term relief mechanism rather than a fix.
It allows us to move better for a short period of time. Forced stretching into 'box splits' and similar positions promoted by movement Guru's usually increases ligament laxity and adds to joint instability.
So should you stretch ? Yes, it feels good! But make sure you are strengthening also.Instead of trying to 'make it long', first focus on 'making it strong!'
For desk based workers, resisted rowing movements or hiked trap/shoulder rolling with added weight is best for long term relief of upper back and neck. Then you can do your stretching.
@ Onebody Clinic, we work with clients to improve strength, stability and mobility with stretching being as a 'last' action after we see strength and proprioception improvement rather than 'first'.
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