Stretching for every day muscle and joint health

28 February, 2010 at 21:20 2 comments

Stretching is an important activity that helps to elongate the fibres of our muscles which in turn can prevent the fibres and other soft tissue structures surrounding them from dehydrating and stiffening up which would ultimately affect that muscles flexibility. Over the long term, stiffening up and over contracting of the fibres within a muscle can impede the flow of fresh blood and cause harmful metabolic waste chemicals to get trapped in the muscle tissues, this causes the stiffness and pain we feel as the end result.

Athletes and people who regularly do sporting, aerobic or body movement training activities all recognize the necessity and beneficial effects of stretching, thus they build in periods of stretching into their training schedules in order to accommodate this need.

Ballistic stretching is a generic name that I’m giving to any kind of stretching which involves repetitions in quick-fire succession and usually involves a lot of exertful force going past the comfortable range of movement. Ballistic therefore isn’t what the rest of this article is about. What the rest of this article is about and what has much higher therapeutic value in a rehabilitation or remedial context is the idea of focused stretching. Focused stretching is done with slowness and intent and (very importantly) involves breathing by receiving deep breaths in just before going into the stretch and breathing out slowly and fully whilst doing the stretch. If you’ve done any amount of work with a body awareness exercise system such tai-chi, qigong, palates or yoga (to name but a few) then you’ll be familiar with the idea of focused stretching.

Stretching is also a vital component of an effective remedial massage session as the fascia and filaments of muscle tissue which have already been passively worked on by the therapist will benefit from being re-aligned and stretched out properly by means of the client fully engaging the muscle that has just been worked on in active full range of movement. This is particularly important after trigger point worked has been carried out on a particular area, as there will be mis-aligned muscle fibres which will be facilitated back into a more healthy alignment by a good series of focused stretches to that muscle. The exact same thing can also be said after a session of indirect myofascial work.

From my own experience as a therapist, I would also say that there are good psychological reasons for the client to do a series of stretches after the necessary soft tissue manipulation work has been done on an area which has been an issue for the client, particularly where there has been a pain on movement or movement restriction challenge a stretch will prove to the client that things have improved! Have lost count of the number of times I’ve gently guided a client through a series of stretches and for them to be fully expecting the movement restriction or pain pattern to still be there, but instead for the situation to be improved to their surprise as they gingerly stretch out to the position where they are still expecting to fell pain or restriction. Once again, the importance of breathing into a focused stretched cannot be overemphasized enough, lots of anecdotal experiences available here once again, clients are always surprised how much further they can go when they breath out whilst going into the stretch instead of holding their breath whilst going into the stretch.

In the previous paragraph I was describing passive stretching i.e. whereby someone (a therapist in this case) assists and coordinates movement of the clients body in order to facilitate a stretch of the target muscle, this is done with client communication to indicate the comfort zone of the stretch as well the appropriate breathing taking place. It is possible for a client to come in for a session with me and for us to do nothing but passive stretching for the entire duration of an hour’s session. Active stretching on the other hand is the polar opposite category to passive stretching where the person doing the stretching does it to themselves with no actual physical assistance from anybody else around them, this is of course very useful to teach people so that they can do self stretching at home in-between session visits. A recommended series of stretching exercises is something I always give to my clients to do at home as this enhances the work we have already done during the session, helps maintain and prevent relapse and retrains the muscle physiology as well as the psyche of the individual into a new re-patterning of “this is now what’s possible” rather than unconsciously slipping back into the previous (less helpful) modus of operational possibility.

Another form of active stretching work that I like to use when appropriate in sessions with clients involves me applying an appropriate amount of pressure usually on or close to the attachment site of a muscle whilst the client very slowly and deliberately repeatedly performs an action with their body that will cause a focused gradual stretch of the whole of the muscle that we happen to be working on. This method of working is adapted from structural integration work (variously known also as postural re-alignment), which I’ve found to be very useful for clients who habitually just want to be in total control of their own bodies and find it very hard to relinquish any kind of passivity over to anything external or anyone that may be trying to assist them e.g. like going into a passive stretch.

There are many books on the subject of stretching, and no doubt if you’re already an active participant in sports, body exercise or movement therapy then you’ll probably already have all the books and other resources available at your finger tips already. If however you’re a complete beginner and need to start incorporating stretching in order to overcome the stiffness and bring back the suppleness into your daily life, something simple I highly recommend to anyone for the health benefits who isn’t already doing so, then this a great book for the lay person to dig into with good pictures, explanations and recommended stretching routines for before, during or after a particular every day activity such as using a computer, watching television, etc:

YouTube is another highly recommended resources for videos showing you how to stretch certain muscles and parts of your body, I’ve included an example selection on the YouTube video player widget which allows you to choose and play videos from a list of favorites over at my other website (ISCA Therapies)


Entry filed under: Clinical Massage & Bodywork. Tags: , , , , , , , .

Fascia physically connects everything to everything else in your body Seededbuzz – Blog Recommendation –

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. BarbaraG  |  29 June, 2010 at 01:52

    Qigong Meditation for health and well-being could also be beneficial to you. There are currently some great Qigong events coming up which your readers may be interested in. Qigong Events:

    • 2. Henry Tang  |  29 June, 2010 at 09:55

      Hi Barbara,

      I’ve been going to weekly qigong classes for about 2 years now, the particular style of qigong we practice there is “Hua Gong”. There are so many different styles of qigong but I can definitely recommend that anyone not currently taking up a regular “body awareness” practice such as qigong try out a session or two. I see part of my work as a bodywork and massage therapist as initiating and begin the process of putting a person back in touch with their body so that they can learn how to experience and realize how much co-ordination is possible than they have previously realized. But then what I call body awareness practices such as qigong, yoga or alexander technique (to name but a few) as where that work can then continue and the person becomes more aware of how they can self manage the body and the mind-body connection.


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Henry Tang – Therapeutic & Advanced Clinical Massage Practitioner (Crows Nest, Sydney, Australia)

Click image above to visit Spaces of Possibilities Wellness Centre, Crows Nest, Sydney, Australia.

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