DR. DAVE HEPBURN | FEBRUARY 13, 2013
Prior to playing hockey, we old-timers warm up, some by skating on the ice, others by Jack Daniels on ice. After a light skate many of us head to the side boards, fall to the ice, assume assorted amphibian poses and try to stretch out our whatevers. Fred arches his back like a harp seal on a rock with a case of piles (rockpiles?) while Ralph is performing some snow angel/Zamboni routine. We don’t necessarily know what we’re stretching or why, but we do know that Guy Lafleur did it, followed by a couple of smokes, and he seldom got hurt on Tuesdays. Michael Jordan, a renowned devoted, intense stretching enthusiast who stretched 90 minutes a day, suffered only one injury in 13 star studded NBA years, a broken foot. The fact is, however, the way we go about stretching on the ice is likely doing no good whatsoever and could be doing us harm. But while pre-game stretching seems to do nothing to prevent injury, stretching itself is turning out to have some beneficial surprises. Not only does stretching increase range of motion/flexibility but also, surprisingly enough, studies have shown it can actually increase our overall strength.
Stretching is the cornerstone to many physiotherapy and massage (RMT) treatments of stiff backs and necks. I had an RMT recently fix a stiff neck I was battling by stretching my neck like Gumby in a microwave. (My mother warned me that one day my neck was gonna stretch if I didn’t eat my broccoli.) Never felt better.
Stretching should be done not only of muscles, but also of joints. Loose joint capsules increase range of motion. As we age, while many of our parts loosen, spread or fall off into our clam chowder, our muscles and joints tighten, decreasing our range of motion. This can mean more difficulty performing routine tasks like cleaning/toileting and unzipping a dress, sights that few of us actually want to see happen to our grandmother. A regular stretching program can help lengthen your muscles, loosen your joint capsules and make daily living activities easier.
At the very least, we should aim to stretch all major muscle groups a few times a week, best done after exercising. Even at work, get up from your desk and stretch out here and there to release muscle tension. Tell your boss the doctor demanded your health required you do this and it only takes three hours.
-Warm up the muscle first. Stretching a cold muscle is like stretching a piece of jerky. Some of us are jerkier than others so find what works for you. First, do 10 minutes of cycling, rowing, elliptical, naked bungy jumping, jogging, combat chess, etc.
-Gauge your stretches accordingly. They shouldn't hurt. If a stretch feels like it's being forced too far, as evidenced by, say, your biceps snapping in two, it likely is. Expect to feel tension while you're stretching, not pain. Some of you are still a little tense thinking of Granny’s zipper. Even just writing this I can almost smell her Noxzema.
-Stretch major muscle groups like your calves, colts, thighs, hips, lower back and neck (suddenly I have an urge for KFC). Don’t focus too much on your thumbs, ear lobes, liver, etc.
-Don't bounce. Bouncing as you stretch can cause small tears in the muscle. Of course to those of you older than beef jerky, bouncing parts are nothing more than a memory anyways.
-Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds or half a minute.
-Repeat each stretch three or four times. Then repeat and repeat that followed by a couple of repeats, particularly if at work.
Keep up with your stretching. If you don't stretch regularly, you’ll stiffen up again like Pokey in the freezer.
And the great thing about it is you don’t have to embarrass your lulu lemons at a gym to do this. Welcome to the home stretch. You can easily stretch in the confines of the corner of your basement, which is exactly what I’m going to do...over by the.... Noxzema??...oh-oh....
Dr. Dave's book The Doctor is In(sane) is now available for those with a sense of humor and half a sense of health.