Dr Bret Wilson
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Stretch or Strengthen or Move

Stretch or Strengthen or Move

Dr Bret WilsonYou wake up in the morning and you are stiff and sore from your nights rest.  After you move around, starting your day, blood starts to flow, muscles and joints get some lubrication and you start to feel more like your self.  Perhaps there is pain and stiffness after recreational activity such as golf or hiking.  You know participation will leave you stiff and sore after the fun.  I am referring to that chronic recurrent mild to moderate pain and stiffness, not any acute injury or severe pain.  The types of conditions we often blame on “old age”.  What kind of exercise could you do to help this situation?  When should the exercises be done?

The common response by the patient is that a tight muscle needs stretched and a part of the body hurts, so I don’t move it.  However, these two common responses are often counter productive to getting back to normal.  So let try and look at this a different way.

The first thing to do is try to find out why there is muscle tightness or spasm.  The most common reasons are that the muscle is working harder than normal to make up for a weak one or the spasm is a protective mechanism to take pressure of the sore area, the third which is usually a combination of the first two is a change in the normal movement pattern that changes the efficiency of movement of muscle and joint that causes pain and tightness.

The best warm up pre – activity is movements through a pain free range of motion for the body parts to be used in the activity.  The movements should be deliberate and not strenuous.  The purpose is to move the joint and muscle through a normal movement that does not cause pain.  This helps establish normal patterns of movement and lubricates the joints and muscle preparing them for activity. Walking fits nicely into this category, 10 -20 minutes is great.

After activity the best cool down is the stretch.  Stretching a muscle, when done successfully will relax the muscle, a temporary weakness, so it is much better for after activity, not preparing for it.  The stretch should be to the point of stretch not pain, and held for 20 to 30 seconds.  Be sure to breathe with the diaphragm while holding the stretch, 5-6 breaths will give you the perfect cool down time.

Starting a strengthening program that works all the major muscle groups though a range of motion is the best maintenance to reduce muscle tightness and improving joint movement.  Resistance exercise helps normalize and balance both tight muscles and weak ones.  Exercise can be done with body weight exercise, weights or machines.  Use light weights, 2-3 low repetition sets and movement through a pain free range.  A 20 to 30 minute session 3-4 times a week can make a big difference.

Improve mobility and flexibility by using three basic principles of exercise.  Move to wake up and prepare muscle and joints for activity.  Use stretches to relax the muscles after activity.  Strengthen muscle and move joints through a range of motion against resistance to achieve better balance and movement patterns.

Yours in health,

Dr Bret