One of the three key aspects of exercise is stretching. The other two are strengthening and conditioning. When one has pain, a component may be tight muscles. A recent article in the New York Times took a look at the new fad of stretching studios. There have been all kinds of health and fitness crazes, but this was something new.
There are many different types of exercise gyms, from the bare bones centers to the multimillion-dollar health clubs to the specialty studios for yoga. Now the new kid is the studio that works individually with a client to increase a person’s flexibility through muscle stretching. Athletes and those with a wide variety of injuries or conditions like neck and low back pain have muscle tightness. Muscle pain with lack of full range of motion often contributes significantly to pain.
The advent of the “stretch” centers, the studios that concentrate on working with people on muscle stretching, is an outcome of our world of pain. Muscle pain is common in athletes due to strengthening without also concentrating on maintaining full muscle length and joint mobility. In the person with neck or low back pain, muscle tightness occurs due to the muscles contration in an effort to prevent someone from moving a painful area. In either cause, tight muscles and lack of joint range of motion are causes themselves for pain.
Stretching is an essential component of exercise. Being an ancient doctor, the reference book of my time was “Stretching” by Bob Anderson, and it was an easy to understand guide to stretching any region of the body. Now, the Internet or your phone’s apps can be an easy source of exercises to stretch any part of the body. Routines do not need to be complicated or take large amounts of time. Stretching for 5 to 10 minutes every day is extremely helpful to loosen up muscles. Sometimes, it takes multiple times a day that one has to stretch, especially if the problems are neck and low back pain. A stretch can be as simple as bending over to touch your toes or sitting on the floor and reaching for your toes. A lot of people are stiff at the end of the day or first thing in the morning. Doing a stretching routine before going to bed and first thing in the morning can often help reduce tightness and pain especially at night and early in the day.
The stretching studios are a bit higher level of stretching. A staff member works with a client to help them stretch a wide variety of muscles. They spend 45-60 minutes work on whole body flexibility. Getting all the muscles loosened up by stretching can be very relaxing. Supposedly the relaxation is similar to what is felt with a massage, but it would require more participation for the client.
Physical therapy can also teach a person how to effectively stretch, especially a person who has had an injury. Working with a therapist is helpful to learn the correct techniques and to prevent further injury. Oftentimes a therapist will give a patient numerous exercises to perform, and doing the whole set could take 45 minutes. Once one understands the exercises, you can choose a few that cover the areas that need work so the whole routine can be done in hopefully 10 to 15 minutes at the most. The main message is tight muscles are often a source of pain, and learning and performing effective stretching routines daily can significantly improve function and diminish overall symptoms.
Thomas Cohn, MD
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