Healthy Stretches

By: Ehren Allen, DPT, COMT

What are Healthy Stretches?

The quick answer is that healthy stretches are exercises that help you keep your muscles healthy and mobile. Stretching helps to lengthen the muscles in your body so that they can allow a wide range of movements without getting hurt. 

There are healthy ways to stretch and unhealthy ways to stretch. Healthy stretches are slow and controlled. They are held for at least 30 seconds to allow the muscles and tendons to relax. The long hold is important to allow the fibers to lengthen. For a muscle to increase in length, there needs to be a collagen remodeling. This occurs best with prolonged stretching.  

Healthy Stretches can help prevent injury.  JOI explains healthy stretches.Image of Healthy Stretches

What Can Happen if I Don't Stretch Properly?

Stretching improperly can lead to injury, therefore muscles need to warm up slowly. This is more important as we age because our muscle and tendon tissue do not respond as quickly. Some common ways that people stretch wrong are:

  • Holding the stretch for less than 30 seconds. It takes a prolonged hold to change the length of a muscle.
  • Bouncing. Bouncing during a stretch can activate the stretch reflex in a muscle and stimulate the muscle, forcing it to tighten. Bouncing also occurs quickly and the muscle may not respond. This can lead to injury.
  • Stretching when the muscles are cold. Warm muscles stretch better. A light walk or bike ride before stretching can help to warm a muscle to allow it to respond better to stretching.  
  • Improper technique. Aligning the joints of the body can help to maximize the effectiveness of a stretch.
  • Dehydration. Remaining hydrated allows muscles to respond better to the stress of stretching.

Hamstring injuries and other muscle and tendon injuries can occur with improper stretching.Image of types of muscle injuries from improper stretching

Improper stretching can lead to a strain or tear in a muscle or tendon. To learn more about muscle and tendon injuries, this ARTICLE may help.

Should I Stretch Before I Exercise?

Dynamic stretching is better before activity.  Static stretching is better afterwards.Image of a woman stretching

Throughout the years, stretches have been encouraged before exercise. However, it is important to realize that stretching IS an exercise. It should be a part of a regular exercise program. Warming up a little before stretching can help to make stretching more effective. 

Newer research suggests that stretching before some exercises may not be as beneficial as we previously thought. Some evidence suggests that stretching just before running may actually hinder performance. Stretching should not be confused with "warming up" before the activity.  

The take-away message is that dynamic movements such as lunges or jumping jacks can help you prepare for an athletic activity and the traditional "static", longer stretching is more beneficial afterward.

What are Healthy Stretches for the Lower Back?

Stretching the lower back involves the lower spine, the hips, and knees. Lower back stretches can help to keep the low back mobile with daily activity. Here are the 2 best basic healthy stretches for the lower back. Hold both stretches 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.

Double Knee to Chest 

Double Knee to Chest Stretch for the Low Back.Double Knee to Chest Stretch

Lower Trunk Rotation

Lower Trunk Rotation Stretch for the Low Back.Lower trunk rotation stretch

If you would like to learn more about the spine, this VIDEO may help. 

What are the Best Shoulder Stretches?

Shoulder stretches can help limit shoulder pain. They can also keep you flexible to reach overhead and behind your back. These are 2 shoulder stretches that are healthy for you. Hold both 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.

Doorway Stretch

Doorway stretch for shoulders and chest.Doorway Chest Stretch

Cross Arm StretchCross Arm Stretch for the shouldersCross Arm Stretch

If you would like to learn more about the Anatomy of the Shoulder, this VIDEO may help.

What Are the Best Healthy Leg Stretches?

Many people try to stretch the muscles in the back of the thigh (Hamstrings). But it is important to stretch the front of the thigh and the calf as well. Here are some examples of healthy stretches for these 3 muscle groups. Hold each stretch 30 seconds and repeat them 3 times.

Hamstring Stretch on the Back

Hamstring stretch on the backHamstring Stretch on Back

Standing Quad/Hip Flexor Stretch

Standing Hip flexor/Quad Stretch

Standing Calf StretchJOI demonstrates a Standing Calf Stretch.Standing Calf Stretch

How Do You Stretch Your IT Band?

The Iliotibial Band or ITB is a thick fibrous tissue that lies along the lateral thigh. IT Band Syndrome (ITBS) can cause pain in near the outer knee in athletes. This is more common in runners. This may be due to running on a graded road that has and angle that alters the leg position.  There are a lot of stretches for the IT Band, but studies suggest that t is very difficult to actually stretch the ITB. Muscles that attach to the ITB can be stretched and this can take pressure off of the IT Band.  

This stretch can help loosen the muscles around the IT Band. Hold 30 seconds, 3 times (you are stretching the side with the hip closest to the wall).

IT band stretching can loosen the muscles around the IT Band.Wall IT Band Stretch

Using a foam roller can be beneficial to break down adhesions in the IT Band and the muscle tissue beneath it. Try rolling out the ITB on a foam roller for 2 to 3 minutes. 

Foam Rolling the IT Band can help to decrease tightness and pain.Foam Roller for IT Band

What if I Have Pain When I Stretch?

These basic stretches are meant for prolonged holds to increase mobility and flexibility.  If you have any pain, stop immediately and see your physician or physical therapist.  For JOI Rehab, please call 904-858-7045.   

Related Articles: Flexibility, Best Hamstring Stretches and Direct Access to Physical Therapy.

The Jacksonville Orthopedic institute is Northeast Florida's Leader in treating muscle and tendon issues. To schedule an appointment, call 904-JOI-2000, schedule online, or click the link below. 

Ehren Allen, DPT is a content writer fro JOIImage of Ehren Allen, DPT, COMT

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