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Types of Stretching – Part 1

Often following a massage session, you will hear your therapist take some time to talk with you about the importance of stretching.  However, it is important to recognize that there are ways to stretch beneficially, and ways to stretch that can sometimes be less than helpful.
Stretching is a common activity used by athletes, older adults, those undergoing physical rehabilitation, and people in fitness programs.  Stretching can be described in three categories: static stretching, dynamic stretching, and pre-contraction stretching.  In static stretching, a specific position is held so that the length of the targeted muscle is increased, and this position is held for a determined amount of time.  In dynamic stretching, a joint is moved through the extent of its range of motion, for instance, making arm circles to stretch all the muscles of the shoulder joint, in fluid and steady motion.  Pre-contraction stretching involves the contraction of the targeted muscle or a related muscle before or during the stretch.1
While there is some evidence that stretching before and after exercise does not significantly reduce risk of injury or even ease feelings of muscle soreness2, stretching does help to improve a person’s range of motion and muscle length or tension.3  However, it is recommended that prior to an exercise, workout, or rehab session, dynamic stretching is best to use.  Dynamic stretching can be included in a warm-up routine, in which the movements of the exercise are replicated at a low intensity for a short period of time, and fluid movement is the focus in order to increase blood flow to the muscles.  Following the period of exercise, after the muscles have been worked, static stretches can be done to encourage the muscle not to shorten during recovery and to help cool the body down slowly.4
Stretching can also be done within the context of your massage session.  In many cases, this is as simple as bringing your joints through a semblance of range of motion before or after massaging that area of your body, though perhaps not to the full extent of your range.  This usually would include your ankles, knees, wrists, elbows, and shoulders, but occasionally could include turning your head to either side for a neck stretch, or pressing on your back in an angular direction for a gentle torso stretch that can help loosen the small muscles in between your ribs.
Massage can also include more active stretching techniques.  If you are coming into your session simply looking to relax, most of the time we will forego this type of stretching during your session so that you can feel free to space out.  However, if you have specific issues you want to focus on, we may keep you engaged by asking you to move or bend your muscle or joint against gentle resistance or make a movement while we massage the targeted muscle.
If you would like to learn more about stretching for your personal self-care routine, please stay tuned for our next blog entry.  We will do a “Part 2” of our discussion on stretching, with information and suggestions for specific kinds of stretches you can do.  If there is a specific flexibility goal that you would like us to work on during a massage session, please let us know or contact us to ask any questions.  The Rebalance Massage Clinic office number is 732-422-6364, or you can check us out or schedule an appointment online at rebalancemassageclinics.com.