Why stretch? What are the basic rules?

Why stretch? What are the basic rules?

guy and girl stretchWithout regular stretching muscles tend to lose flexibility, so when they are called upon to perform a certain movement it can result to damage to the muscular tissue. Certain sports, work related activities ort even activities that you may do around the house involve movements where muscles are not taken to their full range of stretch, this can lead to muscle tightness and shortening. Proper stretching even for short periods, daily can help to

  • prevent injuries
  • Improve efficiency of the muscles
  • Increase extensibility of muscles
  • Improve co-ordination between muscle groups
  • Relax the muscle and help reduce pain
  • Decrease muscle tightening after activity

Keep the following rules in mind before attempting any stretching exercises
Warm up prior to stretching – a small amount of physical activity or better still a hot bath or shower prior to stretching helps to loosen the muscles and make the stretching more effective and comfortable
Stretch gently and slowly – stretch only so far that you do not feel pain. You should feel slight discomfort but no pain
Hold your stretch for about 30 seconds – the tension should subside as the stretch is held. Breath slowly and deeply and concentrate on relaxing the area being stretched
Avoid ballistic or bouncy stretching – try to keep movements smooth and return to you starting position slowly
Make sure that you’re doing the stretches correctly to prevent causing an injury. Get direction from your osteopath or a trainer
Your Osteopath or trainer can help you work out a routine – maybe you need to stretch daily or if your neck is sore from working at a computer you might benefit from stretching regularly throughout the day.
Make sure that the set of stretches you are doing best suit your specific needs/problem
Do each stretch a few times and as you become more flexible to can increase the amount of times and duration of stretch
Practice regularly until you build your stretches up to being held for 30 seconds.
Stretching in front of a mirror can sometimes be helpful to view your technique.
Stretch both sides (where applicable) to keep things even.
If the stretch is causing you pain rather than a tension stretch sensation, STOP and seek advice on modifying the stretch.
Don’t force yourself into a difficult stretch and remember to keep your movements smooth and avoid jerky movements or ‘bouncing’ the stretch.
Keep a regular breathing rhythm while stretching and never hold your breath while trying to perform a stretch.

The essential health and fitness item for everyone.

The essential health and fitness item for everyone.

Are you getting the benefits of foam roller or a massage ball?

Most people realize the importance of a good stretch during when exercising or to just combat postural strain but are you using a massage ball or foam roller to get to those really stubborn or persistent trouble spots?? The self-massage technique once used by professional athletes and therapists is now widely used by everyday people with varying fitness levels.

Once you’ve been shown how to use them and what areas are best and safe for you to target you’re able to manage many of your common muscular strains.

Our own Osteopath Dr Ashleigh Magarry is a big fan of foam rollers and has written the following to give you more information on which foam roller to buy and some basic advice on how they are used.

So what is a Foam Roller and how does it work?

Foam rollers (exactly as imagined) are long cylinders designed to relieve muscle tension by lengthening muscles and fascia (the skin covering your muscles), and breaking up adhesions and scar tissue. This in turn can help improve flexibility and range of movement, and can greatly decrease the risk of injury. The overall effect is better blood circulation, which in turn can speed up workout recovery time and boost performance.

Sounds great right! Now which one should I buy?

There are different foam rollers varying in densities, lengths and textures. Prices vary between $15 to $175, depending on the material used. Essentially there are three types of generic rollers;

  1. EVA Foam (more expensive and dense),
  2. Polyethylene EPE Foam (inexpensive and more pliable), and
  3. Moulded EPE Foam (longer-lasting than Polyethylene EPE Foam and moderate density).

As a general rule large, heavily-muscled athletes will do better with a very high density roller whereas a smaller, younger athlete should begin with a less dense product. The best way to determine which roller is best for you is to try them out.

When should I use it?

Yes timing is important, it’s best after a workout when your muscles are warm and more pliable. When you find a sore spot or area of tension (like your hamstrings), spend a minute rolling over the area slowly. You should start to feel the muscle relax.

Does it hurt?

Yes I won’t lie, it can be painful. However you use your own body weight over the foam roller to achieve the muscle tension release and therefore control your own stretch intensity and pain threshold, so go easy on very painful areas. Sometimes when the roller pressure is applied to ‘knots’ that form in the muscles (known as trigger points) pain is felt in another area of the body. The goal is to restore the muscles health so remember the ‘no pain no gain’ concept is not necessary!

Things to remember:

  • Do not roll over bones or joints
  • It should be uncomfortable, no unbearable!
  • Consult with you osteopath or health practitioner before starting
  • If an area is too painful to apply direct pressure, move to a surrounding area and work there
  • Avoid rolling your neck and low back (this area requires more advanced attention)
  • You may be a little sore for 24-48 hours after use.

So what about the firm spiky massage balls?


Our Osteopath – Dr Jed Pullen is a fan of massage balls and encouraging his patients that could really benefit from using them frequently to give them a go.

Jed sees the massage balls as a really valuable tool for nearly all of his patients to have whether they get tight muscles from sitting in an office all day or feeling tight from training for a marathon. They are inexpensive small, portable and really simple to use.

“I think that everyone should have a massage ball in their bag whether it be to the gym or to the office. A massage ball is small, light and is a great way to loosen off those sore muscles. Many people also love foam rollers and do lots of foam rolling to keep their muscles feeling tension free .

A spikey ball is great way to hit those tight spots in a more specific manner. The gluteus maximus, medius and TFL are good areas  to target with the massage ball and is very effective as it can work deeper than the foam roller. If you are feeling tight through the front of the hip during a sqaut get a massage ball. Roll over the area you are feeling tight or you can find a sore spot and sit on it until it dissipates.

What about the upper half of the body? A massage ball can be used against the wall to target muscles that have tighten up whilst we are all sitting in the office. Put the ball up against the wall between your spine and your shoulder blade and roll until you find a sore spot. Find a new spot once the pain settles.

Massage balls are a relatively inexpensive item to add to your overall strategy of counteracting your muscular tightness from training.”

Both foam rollers and massage balls can be very helpful for most people helping you take control and self manage many of your own muscular strains. If you have one (or want to get one) – get your Osteopath to show you how to get the most benefit from it for you and get rolling!