Muscles are meant to move. The advancements of modern society have made your life more efficient and more stressful. While modern man can communicate and travel great distances, the methods require very little movement on the part of each traveler. Repetitive immobility, replicated on a daily basis, leads to chronic, postural overload and adaptive shortening of the muscles and fascia (connective tissue). This shortening of the myofascia exhibits itself as stiff joints, decreased flexibility, loss of fluidity, and poor posture.
When you continually stress and tighten a muscle group, the fascia and muscles will adhere together, restricting their range of motion and creating postural imbalances. You might think of yourself as balanced, but often times it is because you are so contracted, all you have created is chronic rigidity and nothing in your body moves without tightness or stiffness. The goal of any athlete, then, is to look for ways to correct musculoskeletal restrictions and to embrace those strategies which will help the body regain balance and reduce this chronic rigidity.
Anyone who is intent upon the restoration of their own health should observe their standing and walking posture. You must look for instability and restricted movement. In the book, Posture and Pain, by Kendall, the author notes that “normal joint range for adults should provide an effective balance between motion and stability. A joint which is either too limited in range or not sufficiently limited is vulnerable to strain.”
One major strategy that is often overlooked is a daily stretching program. Research has found that people who stretch daily have a lower risk of injury when engaged in athletic activity than those who only stretch prior to the activity. Stretching should become a habit, done regularly, just like brushing your teeth. Without stretching, you continue to promote a pattern of restricted movement and muscle fatigue. One physiology textbook points out that muscle fatigue comes from a prolonged and strong contraction of a muscle. It is the interruption of blood flow, due to contracting muscle tissue, which leads to muscle fatigue, resulting in the loss of the nutrient supply and the lack of oxygen.
A stretching program does not require a lot of time, nor should it be done only at the outset of pain or stiffness. Any program can be successful if it is done consistently and with purpose. Most muscles need 20 to 30 seconds to begin releasing tension, but up to 1 minute is recommended. You should have a set of basic stretches for your spine which include all directions of movement; flexion and extension, rotation, and lateral flexion. These back stretches should be done daily. Some people use the stretches to help wake up in the morning while others prefer to stretch at night. Anytime is acceptable as long you do the stretches slowly and gently, although warmed up muscles are going to stretch more easily.
- Do these 3 Basic Back Stretches every day (4 minutes):
- Sidebends – standing or sitting, bend to the side with your arm over your head. Hold for 30 seconds each side.
- Rotations – lying on the floor, bend your knees and drop your legs to the left, resting them on the floor. You should feel a stretch along the right side of your back. Hold 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
- Cat/Cow – on your hands and knees, arch your back up (like an angry cat) while tucking your chin to your chest, then drop your back (sag like an old cow) and bring your head up. This is done in an easy, fluid motion, breathing the whole time. Do this 6 to 8 times.
- Do the Lunge Stretch often throughout the day, whenever you have been sitting a lot. This will help prevent tight hip flexors, which can contribute to poor posture. Stand up, place the right leg behind you as far as you can, placing your weight on the toes (not the heel). Bend the left knee, keeping your body erect. You should feel a stretch in the groin area at the top of your thigh. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with the left leg.
- Try and avoid any forward bending when you first wake up in the morning and after long periods of sitting. Warm up your back first before bending forward.
- Additionally, cyclists should stretch these muscle groups on a regular basis
Stand on your left leg, bend your right knee and grasp your ankle, gently pulling your leg back
until you feel a stretch along the front of your thigh. Hold for 20 – 30 seconds, then repeat with your left leg.
Standing next to a chair, desk, or table, place the heel of your right foot on the surface and stand up straight.
Slowly lean forward, reaching for your toes. You should feel the stretch along the back of your thigh.
Breathe. Hold the stretch for 20 – 30 seconds, then repeat with the left leg.
Sit up straight in your chair, crossing the right ankle on to the left knee. Slowly lean forward, keeping your back as straight as possible. You should feel a stretch in the right hip/buttock/thigh. Hold for 20 – 30 seconds, then repeat with the left leg.
Desk shoulder stretch
Standing with your feet wider than your hips, bend forward at the waist and place your hands on a desk or table. Straighten your arms and let your back gently relax. You will feel a stretch in your upper arms, shoulders, and along your back – wherever there is tightness. Breathe. Hold for 20 – 30 seconds.
Traffic Cop stretch
This is a very effective stretch from the neck down to the wrist. First raise your arm out in front of you with your wrist bent upward (like telling someone to “stop”). Keeping your arm raised, move it out to the side, then turn your head in the opposite direction. You will feel stretching anywhere from your neck to your shoulder, arm, and wrist. Hold for 20 – 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side