By Steve Bond, BScPhm, RPh, CDE
We often use animal themed similes to describe enviable traits in ourselves and each other. She runs like a deer. He swims like a fish. I would like to offer another- she stretches like a dog. Every morning when I get up and wake our dogs to walk, the first thing they do is some bizarre downward dog looking yoga pose. Instinctively, they know that in order to start their day, they need to stretch their muscles. Stretching is important to increase flexibility and strength and maintain our range of motion. If we don’t stretch, muscles can become short and weak. When they are called upon for activities like running, injuries can occur. Damage to the muscle can then lead to damage to the joints they support.
Daily stretching is ideal. While it may be impossible to stretch every muscle, it would benefit to focus on areas that affect you most. Talking to a physiotherapist or registered massage therapist is a good place to start to find out which areas need focus. For example, if you sit at a desk, you may need to focus on shoulders, forearms, back and neck. For those of us who stand all day, the lower extremities, neck, back and shoulders may need attention.
There is evidence to suggest that muscles should be warmed before stretching. This can be accomplished by light activity such as a brisk walk. Stretches should be held for 20-30 seconds and you should avoid bouncing which can lead to injury. You should feel tension in your stretch but you should not feel pain.
Stretching, like many beneficial activities in life, takes time and perseverance to see results. You are not likely to see improvement after a couple of morning stretches, but if you keep at it, you will find improved strength, flexibility and reduced pain. So stretch like a dog and remember to take care of yourselves and each other.