It is not uncommon to enter the rehab gym and see patients sitting in chairs, with their legs straight out in front of them propped up on large exercise balls. Or to see a patient with their leg resting on a therapist’s lap and their foot cradled into the therapist’s forearm.  Both of these activities, as well as many others, are performed for the express purpose of stretching.

The benefits of stretching are underrated and often poorly understood. As we age, our muscles can become shorter causing us to lose flexibility and range of motion. This, in turn, can affect posture, coordination, and overall mobility, including gait patterns. Muscles that are tight can cause an individual to compensate, which can put added stress upon other muscles and joints. Over time, this added stress can lead to musculoskeletal injury – pain with mobility that results in an overall reduction in movement – which can ultimately lead to increased weakness. In short, individuals with muscle pain and weakness are at a much higher risk for falls.

Stretching can also improve circulation, help prevent and reduce soreness and increase energy levels. Plus, stretching is known to help aide in stress relief, relieve tension, and enhance the mind body connection. This explains why yoga is so popular.

Fortunately, there are many basic stretches that can easily be done by people as they age. Examples include side neck stretches, back stretches done in a seated position and ankle/hamstring stretches, which can also be executed in a seated position. Stretches should be held for a period of time and, while they may cause discomfort, they should not cause pain. Keep in mind there are many online resources that outline how to perform specific stretches. But remember, when in doubt, it’s always best to consult a healthcare professional.

I personally believe that stretching, when done consistently, is one of the most beneficial activities of all. I am constantly recommending it to my family and friends! The best part: it is an activity that can be done by any individual, regardless of age or physical ability.

This blog is courtesy of Nicole Lee, Director of Rehabilitation at the Jeffrey & Susan Brudnick Center for Living.

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