“Stretching” Versus “Warming up”
Stretching or prolonged stretching can be thought of as bringing a specific joint to its end range and holding this position to improve flexibility and/or mobility. This may sound familiar to you; from when we are small children we are taught that this is the appropriate prelude to a recreational activity or sport. While this is not a harmful activity, there are been many studies and much evidence that this type of stretching does not necessarily prevent injuries or improve performance. Stretching, as it is defined as above, does have its place in everyday life and many times will be prescribed in Physical Therapy to regain flexibility that has been lost due to tightness of muscles (from aging, surgery, posture, alignment) to ultimately improve one’s mobility or efficiency of movement patterns. If you want to recover flexibility, mobility, or range of motion this type of stretching is appropriate and important.
Let us talk about “warming up”. Considering that most recreational sports or activities require movement that occurs within a joints range of motion, requires muscle contraction and endurance; it is most beneficial to complete dynamic stretching before engaging in the activity. Dynamic stretching can be thought of as a joint mobility drill; a warm up consisting of movement and the active use of muscles that increases blood flow and prepares the body for higher level activity.
The picture below provides examples of dynamic stretching.
In conclusion, both types of stretching are significant and should be implemented when needed. If you feel that you have lost mobility, flexibility, have increased injuries or would like to get back to more recreational activities Physical Therapy may be able to help!