Benefits of Stretching When You Wake Up
Your body is a complex mechanism that requires constant maintenance to keep it performing well. Most people understand the basics of bodily maintenance like diet, sleep and cleanliness, but they often lack information about many other important habits. One of the most important of these is maintaining flexibility by stretching.
Stretching is a critical habit for people who want to remain healthy and strong, but it is even more important for chronic pain sufferers because flexibility is essential for retaining joint function. Without a regular stretching regimen, your muscles will shorten and tighten, making it difficult to exercise a full range of motion. Furthermore, this shrinking musculature can also detriment balance, making it more likely you could fall.
A Closer Look at Your Muscles
If you were to examine your muscles at the microscopic level, you would see a dense bundle of elongated cells. That is why they are often called muscle fibers. The overall shape of a muscle group like a bicep or quadricep is defined by the fascia, a thin lining that encapsulates the muscle fibers. Muscle groups may range in size from very tiny such as the stapedium muscle in the ear to quite large like those found in the legs.
Muscles, in general, are soft and fragile, but the fascia help maintain the shape of the muscle when stretched. Nerves and blood vessels also pass through the fascia to connect with muscle fibers. At the ends of muscles, the fascia combine with other tissue called epimysium and perimysium to form the tendons that attach the muscle to the bone. Most muscles will attach to two bones that make a joint.
What Stretching Does to Muscles and Connective Tissue
Stretching involves exercises that increase the length of muscle groups. These stretching exercises have many effects on muscles and tendons including reorganization of muscle fibers, tearing of muscle cells and elongation of fascia. Some people mistakenly believe that stretching applies primarily to tendons and joints, but any loosening of connective tissue within joints is minimal unless severe and damaging torque is applied.
Muscles are among the most pliant tissue in the human body, which is why stretching exercises typically act on them for the most part. Muscles can stretch up to 50 percent of their original length (you should not attempt this, however, as it may cause significant injury). Stretching also reshapes the muscle; in a rest state, muscle fibers will congregate towards the center, but stretching will displace this towards the ends.
This reorganization of muscle tissue provides more flexibility around joints. An elongated muscle will allow you to move in a full range of motion which prevents joint degradation, pain and disability. In our natural state, joints are meant to be used almost constantly; however, in our modern world, we often remain in a frozen position most of the time. Stretching helps restore some of that natural functionality.
Just as importantly, stretching also loosens the surrounding fascia tissue. In sedentary muscles which tend to bunch up, the outer fascia also shrinks. This contracted fascia can make it more difficult for blood vessels to transport oxygen and nutrients to muscle and joint tissue. Stretching, of course, counteracts this by expanding the fascia covering and loosening its grip on blood vessels.
How to Begin a Stretching Program
After learning about all of the benefits of stretching, you may be eager to start your own stretching plan, but there are some things you should do first.
- Talk to your doctor—long before you start any new exercise program, ask your doctor about it. Not only will your physician have good general advice about stretching, but because they have knowledge about your health issues, they can also provide personalized recommendations about any exercises.
- Consult a physical therapist—your physician can provide important information about what to avoid and what to prioritize in your stretching, but they don’t go into details. You can usually find much more information about what stretches to employ, how many you should perform, and how often you should do so from a physical therapist.
- Set reasonable goals—as you talk to your health care team, ask about what your goals should be. Stretching has many physical and emotional benefits, but you don’t have to become a contortionist to derive the most important ones like improved flexibility and strength.
The Basics of Stretching
When you are ready to start your stretching regimen, make sure to take things easy at first. In general, stretching should only involve a gentle tension on your body. If a stretch begins to cause you pain, then you should stop immediately. You should also apply pressure only for 20 or 30 seconds at a time. Avoid any jerky movements; you should never bounce as that may cause injury.
It is also important that you maintain good form while stretching. This includes breathing regularly while performing the exercise, as well as maintaining your balance. If you have difficulty maintaining balance, then ask someone to help you or modify the exercise so that you are lying down. Also avoid any exercises that involve twisting and unnatural positions.
Include as many different kinds of stretches as possible. This will enable you to symmetrically limber up all muscle groups, as well as give you a full-body workout. You will find that your muscles will feel better after stretching, so exercising as many as possible should produce a bigger emotional boost.
Although you can benefit from stretching at any point in the day, you will probably find that the morning is optimal because it helps you wake up and loosen up tight muscles for the coming day. Additionally, a good stretch in the morning can produce an endorphin rush that can buoy your mood for the entire day.
If you struggle with chronic pain, morning stretches will also make you more flexible for the rest of the day, making it easier to function. A regular morning stretch session should also help ease at least some of the muscle tension that is common to chronic pain sufferers.
Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care
M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees. The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship. Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA and you should not post any of your private health information.