Over time, an accumulation of physical stress can begin to take a toll on our muscles and joints. Overuse of muscles can cause them to become chronically tight and sore, and compression and torque forces on the joints can lead to joint dysfunction and pain. In turn, joint pain can lead to further tightening of the muscles via protective muscle splinting and the pain-spasm-pain cycle. Tight muscles can then further limit joint motion, leading to fascial adhesion. This cycle, once begun, can be difficult to stop.
Sports Stretch is very simple. The essence of stretching is that it lengthens soft tissues. Taut soft tissues limit motion, whether they are tight muscles or any soft tissue that has accumulated fascial adhesion. Stretching can help to reverse this process. Even better, stretching on a regular basis can prevent soft tissues from becoming taut in the first place.
Recovery is a hugely important part of your workout routine. After all, that’s when your muscles actually rebuild what’s been broken down during exercise.
Sports stretch massage actually draws from several techniques that may already be familiar to you, including Swedish massage, which improves blood circulation and oxygenation, and deep tissue massage, which targets and breaks up muscle knots and areas of tightness.
Sports stretch massage can be used before, during, and after strenuous athletic events, like a big race. But even if not training for an endurance event, anyone who is regularly physically active may experience the benefits of sports massage. Proponents of the technique say it can reduce muscle tension and pain, lower blood pressure, increase blood circulation and lymph flow, improve flexibility and range of motion, and improve muscle recovery time.
Fascial Stretch Therapy Explained
Fascial stretching can increase flexibility and decrease the chance of injury. … But the kind of fascia we’re talking about is a group of tough fibrous tissues or membranes that surround, connect, and lend support to our muscles, bones, nerves, and blood vessels
Some Benefits of Fascial Stretch Therapy: Reduce and help prevent the risk of injury. Improved posture and muscle function, which allows your body to move more freely. Improve/Increase circulation, flexibility, and range of motion. Reduce or eliminate pain and soreness
First off, this is not a myofascial release. Fascial Stretch Therapy is an assisted stretching program that he been thoroughly researched and designed by some of the top professionals in the industry. It is performed on a treatment table, using stabilization, giving the therapist better control and leverage when performing the stretches. The client feels more comfortable and is able to relax easier by not feeling like they are going to roll off the table.
There is no real way to fully describe the type of stretching you will receive without actually experiencing it. Many of my clients describe it as “yoga on crack”. Your body will be moved and stretched in ways that you just can not do on your own, with areas targeted for release that you likely have never felt before, or even realized how tight you were there. It works deep into the joint capsules of your body (almost 50% of our flexibility is locked up in our joints)…areas a therapist can’t reach with their hands, or with other methods of manual therapy.
Traction is a major component of the treatment. The therapist will apply gentle traction to the joint being targeted, opening up the joint and creating space for an increased range of motion before taking the limb through the movement pattern, paying attention to the fascia restrictions that may need to be addressed. It is pretty pain-free for the client, although some areas can be intense or uncomfortable if it is really restricted. The therapist will work slow through these areas and stay within your comfort zone.
Post-treatment clients tend to notice changes immediately once they get off of the table. A feeling of “lightness” and being more open is a typical description. Better posture without trying. Having them move around or do some stretches they notice more free mobility. It even makes you taller because it decompresses and creates space between all of your joints.
Who Gets Fascial Stretch Therapy?
FST is still pretty unknown to most of the general public, although it is growing rapidly throughout the country and the world. Professional teams and athletes have been using it for years as part of their treatment programs. The Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts, Indiana Pacers all have FST therapists as part of their staff. The 2015 USA Women’s World Champion Soccer Team had an FST therapist as well. All over the country teams and pro athletes from all sports are starting to hire FST therapists (if they haven’t already) because of how beneficial the treatment is.
It is not just a treatment for athletes though, it benefits people of all ages and activity levels. We lose 10% of our flexibility for every 10 years that we age unless we actively work at maintaining it. My desk workers LOVE this treatment because of how immobile their bodies have become from sitting hunched over all day. There are new discoveries every day in the continued research of fascia, and how a treatment that targets this soft tissue component of our body positively affects us. There are just too many benefits to list!
Some Benefits of Fascial Stretch Therapy:
- Reduce and help prevent the risk of injury
- Improved posture and muscle function, which allows your body to move more freely
- Improve/Increase circulation, flexibility, and range of motion
- Reduce or eliminate pain and soreness
- Promote the development of body awareness, and increase balance and symmetry in the body
- Enhance physical fitness and performance, and helps to reach fitness goals
- Improved Recovery and Sleep
Adding Neural Inhibition to a Stretch
A stretch can be enhanced by adding a neural inhibition component, whether performed statically or dynamically. Neural inhibition involves the nervous system inhibiting; in other words, relaxing a muscle so that it can be stretched more effectively. Two nervous system reflexes can be utilized for this: reciprocal inhibition reflex and the Golgi tendon organ reflex.
Reciprocal inhibition is a reflex that inhibits/relaxes the antagonist muscles when an agonist (mover) muscle is contracted. The key to using this reflex is to create a scenario in which our target muscle (the muscle to be stretched) is the antagonist of joint motion. It’s quite simple to do. We contract our musculature to actively move our body into the position of the stretch of the target muscle. For example, if our target muscles are the hip flexors, we simply move the thigh into extension at the hip joint.
In effect, any dynamic stretch adds the component of reciprocal inhibition if we actively move the body part into the position of the stretch instead of passively moving it there. For example, when stretching the posterior shoulder region as seen in Figure 2, instead of using the left hand to bring the right upper extremity into the position of the stretch, we contract the anterior shoulder musculature of the right upper extremity to actively move it into the position of stretch. In addition to the mechanical component of stretching the posterior soft tissues, the posterior muscles will be reciprocally inhibited so they can then be stretched more effectively.
Once the position of stretch is reached, we then further stretch the target musculature; this is done passively by using the left hand to stretch the right upper extremity. Stretches that utilize reciprocal inhibition are called agonist contract (AC) stretches. Active isolated stretching is a form of AC stretching. AC stretches are usually performed dynamically; therefore the position of stretch is only held for a couple of seconds and eight to 10 repetitions are performed.
The Golgi tendon organ reflex inhibits a muscle from contracting if that muscle is first contracted with moderate or greater force. To utilize this reflex when stretching, we need to first actively contract our target musculature. This is usually done isometrically against the resistance of our own bodies.
Stretches that utilize the Golgi tendon organ reflex are called contract-relax (CR) stretches. They are also known as post-isometric relaxation (PIR) and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretches (Note: AC stretching is also sometimes known as PNF stretching). The isometric contraction of a CR stretch is held between five and 10 seconds, and three to four repetitions are usually performed.
Any stretch can have a neural inhibition component of CR or AC stretching added to it. Logistically though, it is sometimes easier to convert a stretch into one or the other depending upon the mechanics of the situation. Because both CR and AC stretching requires active contraction of musculature, they have the added benefit of strengthening musculature and improving neural pathways from the central nervous system.
Conventional wisdom now states that classic static stretching should be done only after the tissues of the body are first warmed up by physical movement. For the massage therapist, this means that we should statically stretch after giving the massage, or after engaging in some other physical activity, such as exercise. Alternately, we could statically stretch after warming the body via the use of heat, perhaps a shower, bath or even a heating pad.
Dynamic stretching better increases local blood circulation and moves synovial fluid, aiding in better nutrition to the joint surfaces. And, of course, the soft tissues on the other side of the joint are lengthened and therefore stretched.
Gentle stretching and nothing is accomplished; too strong and the muscle will respond with a muscle spindle stretch reflex that causes a spasm. Muscle spindle stretch reflexes are triggered by a stretch that is either too strong or too fast. Therefore, the force of a stretch needs to be just right, and it needs to be done slowly.
12 Stretches for Better Self-Care
1. Downward Dog
A yogi favorite, this pose focuses on hip and shoulder mobility, while stretching your hamstrings, lats (muscles in your mid-back), and deltoids (muscles in your shoulders).
How to: Start in a plank position with shoulders directly over wrists (a). Push your hips up toward the ceiling so you form a triangle with your body. Keep your head between your arms and straighten your legs as much as possible (b). Reach your heels toward the ground and spread your fingers, so your bodyweight gets distributed evenly through the hands and feet.
Make it dynamic: Continuously move between plank position and downward dog.
2. Side Oblique Stretch
You’ll lengthen through the side of your body as you stretch your lats, hips, and obliques.
How to: Stand with feet a little wider than hip-distance apart (a). As you lift one arm overhead with your palm facing inward, reach and lean toward the opposite side of the arm raised (b). Hold for eight seconds, then switch sides.
Make it dynamic: After you reach with one arm, bend that elbow as you pull it down by your side and stand straight. Reach back up and over. Do eight reps, then switch sides.
3. Crescent Pose
Find length and balance as you engage your abs, hip flexors, and chest with this high lunge.
How to: Stand with your feet staggered: one in front and one behind you (a). Bend your front knee to create a 90-degree angle. Keep your back leg straight behind you (b). Lift your arms up in the air by your ears, palms facing inward. Lift your chest up, slightly arching your back as you press your back hip forward (c). If possible, lower your lunge as you exhale. Hold for eight seconds, then switch sides.
Make it dynamic: Bend and straighten your front leg as you lift and lower your arms. Repeat for eight reps, then switch sides.
- 4. Child’s Pose
- This stretch is probably one of the most calming postures and works well for recovery, too. You’ll stretch the low back, lats, and shoulders.
- How to: Get on all fours on an exercise mat (a). From your hands and knees, push your hips back until your butt rests on your heels. (Knees slightly wider than hips.) Keep your arms straight out in front of you and look at the floor.
- Make it dynamic: Continuously flow through hands-and-knees position to child’s pose.
5. Single Leg Stretch
If you’re like most adults, you need a little more flexibility in your hamstrings. Bonus benefit: You’ll also work your core.
How to: Lie on your back and lift legs toward the ceiling (a). Lower one leg toward the floor as you pull the other leg toward your face (b). Hold the back of your raised leg (calf or higher) and lift your shoulders off the mat (c). Keep legs as straight as possible and toes pointed. Hold, then switch sides.
Make it dynamic: Switch legs repeatedly, gently grabbing your calf and pulling it toward you.
6. Figure 4
This is an ah-mazing stretch for runners, as it alleviates tightness in the glutes and the hard-to-reach piriformis (another muscle in your backside).
How to: Sit on a mat with your legs extended in front of you (a). Place your hands behind you, fingertips facing away from your body. Lift one leg, placing your ankle on your opposite leg, just above the knee. (Keep your feet flexed to protect your knees.) (b). Slowly bend your bottom leg toward you, until you feel a stretch in the outer hip of the other leg (c). Straighten your back, roll your shoulders down and push out your chest. Hold, then switch sides.
Make it dynamic: Continue to bend and straighten your bottom leg.
Have a stiff back? This pose will encourage blood flow and more mobility in your spine.
How to: Get on your hands and knees on an exercise mat, with wrists in line with shoulders and knees in line with hips (a). Round your back, tuck your pelvis, and look toward the floor, as you scoop your abs upward (b).
Make it dynamic: Inhale and exhale as you flow through cat and cow (below).
Counteract the cat pose with a cow, which stretches your abs and chest muscles.
How to: Get on your hands and knees on an exercise mat, wrists under shoulders, and knees in line with hips (a). Arch your back, look slightly upward, and stick your chest out (b).
Make it dynamic: Flow-through cow and cat together, exhaling as your back arches and inhaling as it rounds.
9. Sumo Squat Twist
This pose is great for wringing out the tension in your spine, specifically your upper- to mid-back, as well as your shoulders.
How to: Stand with feet wide, toes pointed outward about 45 degrees. Place your hands just above your knees (a). Lean forward as you bend your knees to form right angles (or as close to it as possible) (b). Bring one shoulder toward the floor as you look over your opposite shoulder. Keep your hips aligned and arms as straight as possible as you twist further on each exhale. Hold for eight seconds, then switch sides.
Make it dynamic: Continuously switch the twist from side to side.
10. Tiny Fencer Stretch
It loosens up your lower half, including your inner thighs and hip flexors, while improving ankle mobility.
How to: Kneel with both legs on an exercise mat (a). Step one foot out to the side, knee bent, toes facing out, and heel in line with opposite knee. Open arms on a diagonal, pressing your forearm into the inner thigh (b). Bend your front knee on the leg that’s turned out, as you press your hips forward, reaching arms as long as possible. Allow the knee to move past the toe, which helps to increase the ankle range of motion. Hold for eight seconds, then switch.
Make it dynamic: Rock side to side, increasing range of motion each time.
11. Half Kneeling Twist
Great for offsetting a day of sitting, this pose stretches your chest muscles, obliques, and hips.
How to: Start in a kneeling position (a). Step one foot out to the side, knee bent, toes facing out, and heel in line with opposite knee. Place the hand opposite of your front knee on the mat in front of you (b). Twist your upper body as you reach your other arm up toward the ceiling, keeping both elbows straight. Avoid pushing your hip out to the side. Hold for eight seconds, then switch sides.
Make it dynamic: Slowly twist and untwist your upper
12. Crab Reach
You’ll feel like a rock star with this move that sends tension flying — from your hip flexors and obliques to your upper- and mid-back.
How to: Sit with feet flat on the floor, hip-distance apart (a). Place your hands down about six inches behind your hips, fingertips facing away from your body (b). Bring one arm toward your chest, then lift your hips to the tabletop and reach that arm over your head (c). Press into your feet. Rotate through your torso to look down at your bottom hand. Hold for eight seconds, then switch sides.
Make it dynamic: Bring your lifted arm up and down, as you also lift and lower your hips.
When stretching a muscle, bring the muscle to the point of tension where it just starts to resist the stretch. Then the muscle should be slowly stretched, just slightly longer than the point where tissue tension was reached.
The following is a helpful list of a few different types of stretching techniques available through a professional massage therapist:
1. Mattes method: Also known as active isolated stretching, Mattes Method was discovered by Aaron Mattes after working extensively with multiple doctors, athletes, and health care professionals at the University of Illinois. The technique is specifically designed for athletes. With the technique, patients will hold stretches for no longer than two seconds each. The stretches used in the method are often categorized with muscle lengthening techniques, which improve range of motion without causing trauma or tension. Essentially, the Mattes Method improves the elasticity of the muscles and provides natural energy to the patient.
2. Active stretching: One of the more common stretching techniques offered by local massage therapists is active stretching, which involves positioning your body a certain way to facilitate the lengthening of a certain muscle or group of muscles. Active stretching was invented at Columbia University in 1998 by Thomas Sheehan and has since become a popular stretching method for athletes, as well as everyday people. The stretches usually involve staying in an elongated position for 30 to 60 seconds in order to give your muscles enough time to adapt to the stretch. As a result, the patient builds strength and develops greater control over his or her body.
3. Yoga: Yoga is a type of active stretching that integrates concepts such as breathing, meditation, and self-awareness into the routine. Each of these techniques contributes to better injury prevention. Specifically, yoga has proven to be one of the more effective techniques for treating carpal tunnel syndrome.
*Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider.
Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a diagnosis, treatment, or prescription of any kind. The decision to use, or not to use, any information is the sole responsibility of the reader. These statements are not expressions of legal opinion relative to the scope of practice, medical diagnosis, or medical advice, nor do they represent an endorsement of any product, company, or specific massage therapy technique, modality, or approach. All trademarks, registered trademarks, brand names, registered brand names, logos, and company logos referenced in this post are the property of their owners.