The holidays are over and the cold winter weather has set in. So too has a trend of tight and restricted muscles with many of my patients. Whether it is related to the cold weather, snow shovelling, or New Year resolutions of increased work outs and activities, I have been stretching out my patients’ muscles during massage therapy treatments to try to alleviate this increased muscle tension.
Stretching plays a large role in maintaining or increasing your joint range of motion, improving your physical functioning, as well as decreasing your risk of injuries.
There are many different ways of stretching out tight muscles. Knowing how to stretch safely and effectively is important so that you don’t do more harm than good.
Static stretching is the most common type of stretching where you put the muscle into a lengthened position and hold the stretch for a prolonged period of time. However, my favourite type of stretching that I find most beneficial to lengthen and loosen tight muscles in many of my patients is called contract-relax stretching.
A type of PNF Stretching
Contract-relax stretching is one of three types of stretches that make up PNF stretching. PNF stands for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation and is a type of flexibility training that involves passively stretching a muscle, then contracting that muscle while under stretch, and then passively stretching that muscle to a greater range of motion.
This type of stretching influences the brain and inhibits the stretch reflex, allowing deeper stretches, and therefore a greater increase in flexibility. Basically, the brain senses that the muscle is stretching slightly beyond its limits and does not want it to tear, so it sends the muscle a message to tell it to relax a little bit more than normal and thus creates an increase in range of motion.
How to perform the Contract-Relax stretch
Although this type of stretching can be done on your own, the most common way to perform a contract-relax stretch is with the help of a partner, trainer or therapist. This technique can be used on most muscles in the body.
There are 3 phases to a contract-relax PNF stretch:
1. The target muscle is moved into a full passive stretch and held in position by partner (or a solid object to support the body part) for 10 seconds.
2. The muscle is then contracted against slight resistance at approximately 25% exertion, so that the muscle shortens, or moves through its normal range of motion, for 6 seconds.
3. The target muscle then relaxes and is moved into a deeper passive stretch for another 10 seconds.
This process can be repeated 3 times. However, studies have shown that doing just one repetition of this process is enough to provide increased gains in range of motion. Deep breathing throughout the stretching technique can aid in relaxing the muscles and alleviating tension.
Give it a Try
If you feel like you have tight muscles and think that contract-relax stretching might help, let me know during your next massage therapy visit at WIN Health Solutions and we can add it into your treatment plan.
I can also show you how you can safely use this technique as a home exercise to try on your own. As long as you remember to breath, contract, relax and stretch, your nervous system and reflexes will do the rest to provide your muscles with increased flexibility.
Stay tuned and be sure to watch out my video blog this week to see how the contract relax stretch is performed.
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Ellerton, H., & Ellerton, H. (2019). What is PNF stretching and how should you use it? Retrieved from https://humankinetics.me/2018/04/25/what-is-pnf-stretching/
Get More From Your Post-Exercise With PNF Stretching. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.verywellfit.com/postexercise-stretching-is-pnf-right-for-you-3120290
PNF Stretching: Technique and Guidelines. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/pnf-stretching#safety
Stretching is not a warm up! Find out why. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/stretching/art-20047931
Types of PNF Stretches. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.sportsrec.com/types-pnf-stretches-8075684.html