Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Do's and Dont's of Stretching

Everyone has engaged in a stretching routine at one time or another and, yet, a lot of questions remain regarding proper technique. Here's a quick run down:

  •  Perform static stretching before an activity (such as a runner's stretch, hamstring or quad stretch- where one position is held for a length of time). Static stretches elongate muscle fibers which can cause injury when done on "cold" muscles and can actually decrease your power and speed during the activity. Instead, do a warm up before your activity. For "work-out" type activities, such as running, using the elliptical, or lifting, try walking at a brisk pace a few minutes before the activity, slow lunges, or knee lifts with marching. If you're about to play a sport, practice movements that you will doing frequently during the activity, but in a slower, more controlled pace. This will prime your body to do these actions in a safe, technique-appropriate way during game time.
  • Bounce with static stretches! As previously stated, static stretching elongates muscle fibers. If you bounce you're very likely to overstretch the muscle or even tear fibers. 
  • Hold your breath. This is known as a val-salva maneuver to health professionals and can wreak havoc on your blood pressure as well as teach you bad habits that you then take into your work out or sport. You are never performing an activity to your true potential if you're holding your breath.


  • Static stretching after your activity. No matter the activity, you just performed numerous contractions which has left your muscle tight and balled up. Even after the activity the muscle fibers remain in some amount of contraction, therefore, we need to elongate them to return them to their normal resting state. This will decrease the likelihood of muscle soreness or spasm. If you're in a time crunch, at least stretch the muscle groups you used most during your activity (ie quads after lunges)
  • When performing your static activity, stop at a sensation of a comfortable stretch, NOT PAIN. Pain indicates, or may lead to, possible injury.
  • Hold your stretch for 30-60 seconds. 
  • Remember to always use good technique. If you're trying to stretch your hamstrings, be sure you're not actually stretching your back!
If you have any questions about stretching or have had repeated injury with your activity despite following these guidelines, see a physical therapist.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Weebles wobble, but they don't fall down...

Unlike weebles, we have very complex means for staying upright.  There are three main systems in the body that contribute to our ability to maintain balance.  They are vision, the vestibular system, and joint/muscle receptors.  Vision is obviously important for maintaining balance, but the other two systems have important roles as well.  The vestibular system, located in the inner ears, helps your body know which way is upright and, with vision and joint receptors, if your body is moving and how so (as in rocking on a boat).  Joint receptors, along with receptors in the muscles, tell your brain where the joint is in space and if and how your joint is moving.  Additionally, sensory input from the skin helps us feel the ground and adapt to uneven surfaces.  Processing, integration, and control from brain centers (for instance, the cerebellum, located under the base of the skull in back) play a major role in maintaining balance.  If something goes wrong in any of the systems, balance will be affected and you'll have to rely more on the other systems.

A few practical examples illustrate the contributions of the various systems.  A person who's had a knee replacement has lost joint receptors in the parts of the joint that were removed in surgery.  Sometimes the loss is significant enough that balance is affected because the person can't tell where the joint is in space very well.  People with diabetes often loose sensation in there feet due to nerve damage from the disease.  They are basically walking on two numb feet, which can be especially troublesome with walking on the lawn (which is uneven).  A person who had a blow to the head may find that they are terribly dizzy with changes in position.  This can be due a problem with the sensory apparatus in the inner ear, but is often treatable.

The balance system is really a combination of beautifully interworking systems in the body.  So, next time you take a step without falling down, be glad everything's in working order!