Having treated and seen so many people from a lot of different backgrounds, we get many questions. One of the more consistent questions seems to be ‘How long should I hold a stretch?’

Should it be 5 seconds, 15 or 30? And so on…

To answer this we need to ask ourselves, what is the purpose of our stretching?

The aim of stretching is to help gain a full range of movement from the muscles fibres and to increase it if possible.

There are various types of stretching, each with a view to increase musculotendinous length, such as:

  • Sustained
  • PNF
  • Ballistic

We aren’t considering Ballistic here, as its use in a therapeutic setting isn’t suitable and can cause injury.

All tissue has a physiological barrier and physical qualities that, when maintained to a maximum efficiency, help the body move and function at their best.

This is what stretching can help with, allowing the muscles to function at their optimum to give you better movement, mobility and response. Something commonly mentioned in the clinic is that “structure governs function”.

With this in mind the elements to a good workout include warm up, your activity, cool down and stretch routine.

Stretching should really be done after you exercise or a separate routine as the influence on stretching muscle fibres does not really prepare the body for a dynamic action, check with your coach, osteopath or Physiotherapist.

During any activity, daily and sports, our bodies adapt to what we do with some activities causing muscles to become shortened and contracted, this can create long-term function dysfunction and imbalance, stretching is used to reduce this and find its resting length.

Sustained stretching is used in a clinical setting and generally held for 30-60 seconds, both have been shown to help in short term actions. Less than 30 seconds doesn’t really help, with no lasting effects really demonstrated.

PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) utilises the contract-relax manoeuvre to work the muscle tissue. There’s a lot of research that often pits Sustained and PNF against one another and the outcome can often vary slightly.

However, we use a combination of the two, utilising 3x PNF function followed by 1x Sustained stretch.

In a clinical setting we have observed good results by this, and for home help a good response to Sustained stretching.

So, what do we recommend for this? For home rehabilitation we generally recommend sustained stretching, minimum is 1x 30 seconds with a more ideal routine  3x30 seconds time permitting.

The important point is to STRETCH.

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