Prepping your body before hitting the gym or starting the big game is vital to reducing the risk of injury. However, many of us often mistake stretching as a sufficient form of warming up. It is traditionally thought stretching before any strenuous activity reduces the risk of injury, but research shows that stretching alone may not reduce this risk. Studies show most injuries occur during a phase of contractions within a muscle’s normal range of motion. So stretching, or trying to increase that range of motion, can’t be the only way to prevent injury. The answer: warming up.
A warm-up is a burst of light activity that increases your body temperature and blood flow to the muscles. Short jogs, jumping jacks, or high-knee skipping can expand your joints’ range of motion and prevent strain. The goal is to slightly raise your body temperature – just enough to break a sweat. An effective warm-up should mirror the movements you will be doing during your activity. If done properly, a warm-up will increase muscle efficiency, improve reaction time, improve the speed of movements, and reduce the potential for muscle pulls.
There are two types of stretching: static stretching and dynamic stretching. Static stretches involve holding a stretch for 10- to 30-second periods. This type is best done after the big game in order to cool down the muscles and prevent future soreness. If done before a physical activity, static stretching is actually more likely to add to injury. Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, involves slow and controlled stretching movements, such as high-knee jogging or walking lunges. Like warming up, dynamic stretches help improve your muscle’s elasticity before any intense activity. Stretching can be especially important for young athletes with growing bones.
There is an important difference between warming up and stretching. Stretching the muscles without a warm-up leaves the muscles cold and more prone to injury, such as a muscle tear or strain.
Dealing with injuries can be a painful experience no one should have to go through. Pro Staff’s Physical Therapists have the knowledge and expertise in reducing pain and ensuring you are safe. The at-home solutions in this article are meant to remedy mild cases. For persistent or recurring pain, make an appointment with one of our experienced PTs at a location near you.
DISCLAIMER: This post is not meant to diagnose, treat, or rehab any patient. For official advice, schedule an appointment with us to further discuss treatment.