Why does Stretching feel so good?
We’ve all been there. You just finished a great workout and your muscles are screaming for mercy. But then you remember your coach always told you to stretch, so you go through the motions even though all you really want to do is collapse onto the nearest soft surface.
But why does stretching feel so good? Surely, if our muscles are in that much pain, stretching them can’t be doing them any favours, right? Wrong! As it turns out, stretching is an essential part of exercise and has a whole host of benefits for our bodies. Here’s a look at some of the science behind why stretching feels so good?
Research has shown that stretching your muscles will activate your parasympathetic nervous system. This activation results in an increase of blood flow and endorphins, resulting in a feeling of calmness and relaxation. This could be our bodies way of saying “DO THIS MORE PLEASE!”.
Stretching Reduces Muscle Soreness
One of the main reasons why stretching feels so good is that it helps reduce muscle soreness. When we exercise, we create microscopic tears in our muscle fibers. These tears are what give us that sore feeling 24-48 hours after a workout.
Stretching helps to increase blood flow to our muscles, which in turn helps to repair those microscopic tears and reduce muscle soreness. So next time you’re feeling a little stiff after a workout, reach for a stretch instead of an ice pack and you’ll be feeling better in no time!
Stretching Improves Joint Lubrication
Another reason why stretching feels so good is that it helps improve joint lubrication. Our joints are protected by a layer of cartilage which acts as a shock absorber and helps to lubricate the joint.
When we move our joints through their full range of motion on a regular basis (as we do when we stretch), we help to keep that cartilage healthy and prevent it from breaking down. This in turn helps to reduce joint pain and keep our joints healthy and happy!
Stretching Reduces Stress
In addition to physical benefits, stretching also has psychological benefits. One of these benefits is reducing stress levels. When we stretch, our body releases endorphins, which are hormones that have mood-boosting effects.
These endorphins interact with the receptors in our brain that control pain, producing feelings of euphoria and relaxation. So next time you’re feeling stressed out, take a few minutes to stretch and you just might find yourself feeling more relaxed and able to tackle whatever it is that’s causing you stress!
Stretching can alleviate pain and prevent injuries, this might be the reason our body feels good after stretching, it wants to encourage us to do it more often. The majority of musculoskeletal injuries are a direct result of muscle imbalances and tension. When muscles and ligaments are tight, tension builds. Stretching keeps your muscles flexible and strong. This flexibility is incredibly important to maintain range of motion. Inflexibility causes the muscles to shorten and which results in muscle tightness. When your muscles are tight, they become weak and are unable to extend to full range of motion, further worsening your problem.
There are two types of stretching. Active stretching, also known as dynamic stretching, is used to improve mobility and range of motion. This type of stretching is best completed pre workout as it protects us from over stretching and utilizes movements that are similar to the activity or sport that is about to be performed. For example, with our track and field patients we usually recommend doing knee grabs. Begin by standing up straight and raising your right knee to your chest. Grab your right shin with your hands and pull it towards your body. Hold for 3 seconds and repeat on the other side.
The second type of stretching is called static stretching. This type of stretching is best completed post workout. Static stretching differs from dynamic stretching as you hold a stretch without any movement. A great post workout stretch for your hip is called the seated pretzel. Begin by siting straight up in a chair with your right ankle on your left knee. Slowly bend forward until you feel a slightly stretch around your hip and glutes. Hold for 30 seconds and switch to the other side. Do this stretch for three reps. We typically recommend accountants and anyone with a desk job to do this exercise every day, even if they aren’t working out. This will strengthen release tension in the surround muscles and alleviate pain.
As you age, flexibility becomes just as important as cardio and strengthening. Yet it is often overlooked, as simple stretches often feel Mickey Mouse, when compared to lifting a lot of weight or running a 5miles. With age, our joints become stiffer and less flexible, as the amount of lubricating fluid decreases inside the joint. As a result, the cartilage begins to wear out which can cause pain. Our ligaments also begin to shorten, which contributes to even more stiffness. Stretching it is not so much of an anti aging hack but more of a graceful aging hack.
Why should we do daily stretching?
Daily stretching should be incorporated into everyones routine, as it not only increase your flexibility but it also can improve posture, reduce stress, reduce headaches and prevent injuries. Regular stretching forces a joint to move through its full ROM (range of motion). This will increase your flexibility and athletic performance. There is a lot of evidence supporting a lesser known benefit to stretching, which is; stretching will improve your circulation. By increasing the amount of blood delivering oxygen and vital nutrients to the muscles, you can drastically reduce recovery time and muscle soreness after physical activity.
Pain and tightness associated with posture will almost always alleviate with regular daily stretching. Your upper back and neck are mainly comprised of your rhomboid muscles, infraspinatus muscles, deltoid muscle, erector spinae muscle and your cervical extensors. These muscles are responsible for head posture. Stretching keeps these muscles flexible and strong. This flexibility is super important to maintain range of motion, postural stability and spinal protection. Inflexibility causes these muscles too shorten and become tight. As a result they become weak and are unable to extend to full range of motion, further worsening your problem. If you are looking for more ideas for stretching, check out our blog on rolling different joints.
I have a headache can stretching help?
Tension and stress headaches typically feel like someone put a tight rubber band around your head. These headaches are a sometimes a result of tension in the head, neck and shoulder muscles. Treatment for these types of headaches will often involve daily stretching to alleviate muscle tension. Try out this stretch:
Begin by sitting upright in a chair with firm back support. Rotate your head to the right. With your right hand, reach over and grab the opposite side of your head with your hand. Gently pull your head down towards your shoulder, pointing your nose to your armpit. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat on the other side.
If this doesn’t work, try asking one of our physiotherapists. They will have some very specific exercises that will help with your headaches. Give us a call, click here.
So there you have it—a bunch of science-backed reasons why stretching feels so good! Next time you’re tempted to skip your post-workout stretch, remember how good it will make you feel and give it a try. Your body (and mind) will thank you!