Back and neck pain can be helped by making stretching part of your daily routine. As we age, our joints become less flexible and this can make everyday tasks increasingly challenging.
Stretching keeps our muscles flexible and increases the range of motion in our joints, and it can also improve posture, reduce the risk of injuries and relieve muscular tension in the body. Here’s some good advice and some great exercises from our physio, Tech.
How to start stretching for flexibility
There are two kinds of stretches: ‘static’ stretches and ‘dynamic’ stretches.
Dynamic stretches are usually the stretches performed before exercise. They are controlled movements, such as a walking lunge or leg swing, that prepare your muscles and ligaments for movement.
By contrast, static stretches involve moving a muscle into a certain position and holding it in that position for around 30 seconds. When doing a static stretch, the muscle should feel tight, but not painful.
Static stretching can really help to reduce pain and stiffness. Tight, tense or overworked muscles can cause pain and discomfort, which regular stretching can reduce.
Preventing injury – stretching safely
Our muscles are more open and flexible later in the day, so it is likely that you will notice some changes in your flexibility throughout the day. With this in mind, here are some tips to make sure you are stretching safely and effectively:
- Warming up
Muscles stretch more easily when they are warm, which is why stretching is encouraged after exercise. If you don’t exercise daily, you can still incorporate stretching into your daily routine. A brisk walk or even a warm shower are effective ways to warm up your muscles.
- Be mindful of pain
You should stretch to the point of mild tension. Stretching should not be painful, whether this is going into the stretch or coming out of it. If you feel sharp pains, then you should come out of the stretch right away.
- Slow and steady
It is important to ease into a stretch gently because this lets the brain know that you are not going to get hurt. Try to use smooth and slow movements throughout your stretching, instead of bouncing and jerking.
- Posture and good form
Maintaining good form and posture will ensure you get the most out of your stretching. By being mindful of your position in each stretch, you also reduce the risk of injuring yourself.
It is easy to forget about our breathing when the body is feeling some discomfort. When stretching, breathing is crucial because it can relieve stress and tension throughout the body. Try to make sure you are breathing comfortably, as this could help you hold stretches for longer.
Best Daily Stretches
Everyone’s bodies are different and your stretching routine might be influenced by where you feel tightness or have suffered an injury. You should focus on major muscle groups, which includes calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders.
Here are some examples of stretches to focus on these muscle groups:
Calves – heel drop stretch
This stretch incorporates a step, which could be the edge of your stairs or a box, for example.
Start by standing with the ball of your feet at the edge of the step and drop your heel towards the floor. Gravity helps to deepen this stretch, but it can also be made dynamic by slowly pedalling your heels.
Thighs – standing quad stretch
This stretch can be done almost anywhere, making it easy to incorporate it into your day.
Start in a standing position and hold onto something if you need some extra support when balancing. Bend your leg at the knee and take hold of your ankle in your hand, bending it towards you. You should feel the stretch down the front of your leg and then repeat on the other side.
Hips – butterfly stretch
Start by sitting on the floor and bring the soles of your feet together by bending your knees. Ensure your spine is straight and elongated, rather than hunched over. To deepen the stretch, bring your feet closer to your body.
Lower Back – child’s pose This is a traditional yoga pose that is beneficial for your spinal extensors, as well as your gluteus maximus and thighs.
On the floor, start with your hands and knees in a ‘table’ position. Allow yourself to sink back so your hips are above your heels and you are resting your stomach on your thighs. You can extend your arms in front of you, or leave them alongside your body.
Neck – seated clasped neck stretch
When stretching your neck, it is very important for your body to be correctly aligned.
Start this stretch by sitting comfortably on the floor or in a chair. To be correctly aligned, you should be in a straight line with your shoulders stacked above your hips and your ribs stacked above your pelvis. Place your hands in a clasped position at the back of your head and gently press your head down towards your thighs, making sure to tuck your chin into your chest.
Shoulders – cross arm stretch This is another simple stretch that targets the rotator cuff muscles and will give a good stretch to the rear shoulders.
Stand with your feet less than shoulder-width apart and bring one arm to shoulder height. Place your other hand on your elbow and gently pull your arm across your body. Repeat this on both sides.
Lower back and Glutes – knee-to-chest stretch
The knee-to-chest movement is a very gentle stretch that loosens up your lower back and gluteal muscles. Start by lying down on a flat, comfortable surface. Then, gently pull one knee to your chest until you feel a stretch in the lower back and gluteal muscles. Bring the knee closer to your chest to feel a greater stretch. The opposite leg should be straightened and relaxed comfortably.
And don’t forget, we’re always happy to see you here at Sundial. A personalised home exercise programme, inclusive of stretching and strengthening, is key to prevent injuries. At Sundial we’re always happy to help identify any areas that you would like to work on. Book in for a check up today!