Am I Doing this Right? Tips for Correcting and Imporving Stretching Errors: Taylor Millican

Posted 5/4/2015 in Physical Therapy Corner | 7845 view(s) | 0 comment(s)

Am I doing this right? Tips for Correcting and Improving Stretching Errors
Taylor Millican, PT, DPT, ART-cert 
Physical Therapist 
Endurance Sports Medicine

April showers bring May flowers, but in addition to the reappearance of plant life to the Chicago9land area the warmer weather means a large spike in outdoor exercise and activity populations. Everyone can benefit from a dose of natural vitamin D and increased fitness however, not everyone has kept up with their physical fitness through the long, cold, dark 6 month season known as winter. In the clinic we always see a spike in injuries as the season switches into spring for this reason—not everyone is physically prepared exercise.

Regardless of your type of preferred activity, flexibility is often neglected or stretching performed incorrectly. Flexibility is not often viewed as important as strength or endurance, but this isn’t true. Normal flexibility equals full range9of9motion in the joint and proper use and balance of all the muscles surrounding the joint. Balance in the musculoskeletal system is crucial for health. If one muscle group has to do more work than its opposing group, because of decreased motion available, overuse injuries can occur.

While there are numerous flexibility programs catered to specific populations or sports that I could discuss in detail here, there are a few stretches that are frequently done incorrectly and can benefit EVERYONE if done correctly.

The most common mistake with all flexibility programs is the duration of the stretch being performed. All static/passive stretches must be held 30 seconds minimum to get an actual change in muscle length. This is very rarely done for the full amount of time which means true flexibility gains are often not reached. Body positioning is another common error with flexibility.

Here are my top 5 muscles for stretching errors and how to fix them 

1. Quads: If you sit for long periods or are active in any way these are tight The quads are a large group of four muscles that cross both the hip and knee joint. It’s function is to straighten the knee and flex (bring it up) the hip and therefore must be stretched in the opposite direction at both joints (hip extended behind the body and knee flexed/bent) to properly stretch the entire muscle. Not getting both joints involved is the most common  mistake with this muscle. It’s most often performed in standing by grabbing the foot to bend the knee. The first issue with this is unless the thigh is behind the body, the top of the muscle is being missed in the stretch. Second, when the quad is tight often you arch your back to compensate when trying to bring the thigh back. To remedy these mistakes it is best performing this stretch lying on your stomach using a strap (or towel, belt, dog leash) around the foot for leverage and a pillow underneath the thigh. Keeping the knees together carefully bend the knee using the strap and hold.

2. Hamstrings: athletes and office workers alike have restriction here. Most common mistake when stretching this group is letting the motion come form flexing the spine to deepen the stretch, unfortunately this done nothing to actually stretch the muscle. The easiest way to properly and effectively stretch this is to lay on your back with a strap around the foot and being the leg up while keeping the knee locked straight. the goal is to reach a 90 degree hip angle position; the hip flexed to 90 with the knee locked straight.

3. The short hip flexor/Psoas: typically this is done in a half kneeling position, sometimes known as a roll under stretch. The mistake here is the back is arched to compensate for tightness but since this muscle attaches to the lumbar spine the arch in the back actually decreases the stretch. The key fix to this is keep the pelvis “tucked under” so there is a flat back position. IF this is not enough stretch a small lean forward with the entire trunk while keeping the back flat can deepen the stretch.

4. Calves: Two muscles to stretch here, the gastroc and soleus. often only one of these muscles gets addressed because the gastroc crosses the knee and ankle joint so to stretch the muscle the knee has to be straight and then the ankle flexed. the smaller soleus muscle does not cross the knee so the knee is bent and the ankle flexed. The easiest way to do these is to stand in a staggered stance with the back leg being the targeted leg. First set keep the knee straight and lean forward, keeping the foot straight forward and heel on the ground. With the tendon set bend the knee, lean forward slightly until the stretch is felt low in the calf. The compensation often seen when these are tight is for the heel to come up or the entire foot to point out.

5. Glutes: there are 3 glute muscles but for all important purposes there are 2 ways to stretch them. First one is laying on your back and bringing the knee to the chest. The second stretch and often the one that is often missed is a diagonal stretch where the knee is brought towards the chest and then towards the opposite shoulder.

Maintaining or improving flexibility is an excellent way to remain injury free. It is easier to perform at home or the gym and can easily be incorporated into any program. Happy Spring and Happy stretching!


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