Stretching and Flexibility

Functional flexibility provides us with the freedom to move smoothly without restriction during our daily activities and in preparation for activity. For best results, stretching and flexibility exercises to progressively increase our range of movement need to be planned, deliberate and regular.

The many benefits of stretching can include pain relief, postural improvement, muscular efficiency, promotion of mental relaxation, delays in muscle fatigue, and reduction in the incidence and severity of injury.

It is important to understand that the amount and type of stretching and flexibility required by each individual is highly variable. This depends on current physical and mental needs as well as personal goals.

Individual stretching exercises will be given to you as part of your osteopathic consultation. These can be performed almost anywhere and will not take long to perform. We will work with you to fine-tune your stretching duration, frequency and intensity. 

Stretching falls into seven main categories.

These include static, activity, dynamic, passive, isometric, ballistic and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF).  

The most familiar type is static stretching, which requires holding your body still for a set period to elongate the muscle.

Active stretching uses a move and hold combination using only the stretched muscle to hold your body position.

Dynamic stretching uses a constant series of movements to lengthen the muscle, with the key difference being that dynamic stretches take the joint and muscles through the full range of motion, often repeatedly.

Passive stretching requires an outside force to move your body and stretch your muscles.

Isometric stretching belongs to the static group, but instead of just holding a position, you contract the stretched muscle to increase the stretched effectiveness.

PNF combines isometric and passive stretching.

Ballistic stretching involves forcing the body parts into positions beyond the normal range of motion by the momentum of a swinging movement. It is a quite controversial way of stretching because it may cause injuries. Also the stretching effect itself is questionable since the stressed muscle may tend to contract during the exercise. When doing ballistic stretching, avoid the bouncing motion, which increases the chances of injury.

Factors that influence the ability to stretch the connective tissues in a muscle are as follows:

  • muscle fatigue
  • the presence of scar tissue
  • muscle temperature
  • activity prior to the stretch
  • collagen/elastic content (varies with age)
  • hydration/dehydration
  • medical conditions (diabetes, connective tissue disorders, smoking)

How Long Do I hold a Stretch & How often Do I Repeat?

With a static stretch, the position in which a slight stretch is felt should be held for about 30 seconds, and each stretch should be repeated 3-5 times on each side of the body. The primary note regarding stretch position is that it should not cause pain or take the joint past the normal range.

ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) guidelines recommend that stretching activities be done at least two days per week for healthy individuals. However, if you have lost some joint motion or feel stiff, range of motion or stretching activities should be done daily.

Age & Stretch Times

A study done amongst a relatively small sample size of thirteen healthy 13-15 year olds examined the effect of four different stretching protocols. Results suggested that if you have a child in this age group asking how long to stretch, generally, 15-30 seconds is adequate, provided there are no injuries or underlying conditions.

Studies in senior people showed that a longer period is required to achieve the best results from a stretch.  Better results occurred on those people holding stretches for 45-60 seconds compared to those holding for only 30 seconds