How do we become inflexible?
According to Davis’s Law, soft tissue models along the lines of stress, i.e. tissue remodeling after trauma (acute or repetitive) does not run in the same direction as the muscle fibers, but forms in a random fashion. As a result, when muscle fibers are lengthened, these inelastic connective tissue fibers act as roadblocks, preventing the muscles from moving properly and altering normal tissue extensibility. Inelastic connective tissue leads to relative flexibility and postural distortion patterns.
There are three primary types of stretching within the flexibility continuum:
- Corrective (Static)
- Functional (Dynamic)
Self-Myofascial Release (SMR)
Ideally, SMR should be performed as part of flexibility training. SMR effects both neural and fascial systems.
Pressure applied to “knots” or adhesions aids in aligning the fibers in the direction of the muscle/fascia. Gentle pressure stimulates mechanoreceptors know as Golgi Tendon Organs (GTO), creating autogenic inhibition, decreasing muscle spindle excitation and releasing muscle hypertonicity. SMR resets proprioceptive mechanisms and releases fascial adhesions
Corrective Flexibility (Static Stretching)
Corrective flexibility uses self-myofascial release and static stretching to address postural dysfunction, muscle imbalance and joint dysfunction.
Static stretching works via the neurological phenomenon autogenic inhibition, whereby stimulation to a muscle’s mechanoreceptors (e.g. GTO) results in reflexive relaxation.
Corrective stretching is often used in a rehabilitation setting or as part of a corrective exercise plan.
Active Flexibility (Active Isolated Stretching- AIS)
AIS is Used to improve soft tissue extensibility in all planes of motion.
Agonists and synergists actively move a limb through a range of motion, while the functional antagonist is being stretched, e.g. actively contracting the hip flexors, to stretch the hip extensors.
Because you cannot co-contract opposing muscles simultaneously, the muscles opposite to those contracting are reciprocally inhibited, allowing for a greater stretch.
AIS incorporates self-myofascial release, active isolated stretching and neuromuscular stretching
Neuromuscular stretching involves both autogenic inhibition and reciprocal inhibition.
A trainer or healthcare professional moves the limb until the first resistance barrier and then has the person actively contract the agonist with 25% maximal resistance isometrically (against the tester) for 7-15 seconds. After relaxation of this brief contraction, the limb is then actively moved by the individual to the next resistance barrier and held for 20-30 seconds. This is repeated three times.
Active stretching is appropriate for preparing muscles and joints for strength training.
Functional Flexibility (Dynamic stretching)
Dynamic stretching is used to improve multiplanar (in all directions) soft tissue extensibility and optimum neuromuscular control at full ranges of motion, while performing movements that require the body’s muscles to control the speed, direction and intensity of the stretch.
Examples: Lunge with rotation, multi planar lunge, prisoner squat, tube walking, single leg touch down, medicine ball chop and lift.
Functional stretching is appropriate as a warm up prior to dynamic activities, such as exercises that involve power, or to prepare the body for a game/competition/class
Acute Variables to Improve Flexibility
Self-myofascial release (e.g. foam roller):
- Find tender knot or adhesion
- Apply pressure for 30-60 seconds
- Gently move the distal part of the extremity if appropriate, or pin and friction the area
- Perform 1-3 sets
- Follow with stretching (SEE BELOW)
- Can also be used as warm up and warm down to facilitate recovery
- This should be somewhat uncomfortable, but not greater than a 7/10 on the pain scale (10 is worse)
Static stretching: 1-3 sets for 30 seconds
Active isolated stretching: Hold stretch for 2 seconds and repeat 5-10 times
Neuromuscular stretching- Contract-relax-antagonist-contract (with partner): A trainer or healthcare professional passively moves the limb until the first resistance barrier and then has the person actively contract the agonist with 25% maximal resistance isometrically (against the tester) for 7-15 seconds. After relaxation of this brief contraction, the limb is then actively moved by the individual to the next resistance barrier and held for 20-30 seconds. This is repeated three times.
Dynamic stretching: 1 set of 10 repetitions
- Tissue remodeling after trauma forms in a random fashion. As a result, when muscle fibers are lengthened, these inelastic connective tissue fibers act as roadblocks, preventing the muscles from moving properly
- There are three primary types of stretching: Static, Active and Dynamic
- SMR should ideally be done prior to stretching
- In my opinion, stretching should be prescriptive and used based on an assessment/need
- Don’t forget, a muscle that is tight could be short or “locked long”. The latter may be the brain’s way of trying to create stability, so stretching would be contraindicated
- In some cases, adhesions that have formed in soft tissues that are affecting flexibility should be addressed by manual therapies, e.g. dry needling and myofascial release