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Flexibility Exercises Improve Sports Performance, Reduce Injury Risk

When it comes to exercise, most people think about burning calories and building muscle. Just as important, however, are flexibility exercises.

Not only do flexibility exercises help the body recover from aerobic activity, but they also help lower a person’s risk for injury while improving sports performance. In fact, flexibility exercises, which benefit bones and joints, should be a part of everyone’s daily workout, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

“Increasing your flexibility improves your ability to move easily,” said orthopaedic surgeon and AAOS spokesman Raymond Rocco Monto, MD, in a news release. “Some joints lose up to 50 percent of motion as we age. There are many ways to improve your joint flexibility including controlled stretches held for 10 to 30 seconds, stretches that rely on reflexes to produce deeper flexibility, as well as yoga and pilates.”

Consider these five health benefits to adding flexibility exercises to workout regimen:

  • Less back and joint pain: A 2011 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that regular stretching was effective in relieving chronic back pain. Research also shows that stretching the quadriceps can help decrease knee pain.
  • Better circulation: A 2009 study in the American Journal of Physiology showed that torso stretches can decrease stiffness and improve blood flow. Practicing regular bedtime hamstring and calf stretches may help decrease the intensity and nighttime leg cramps and how often they occur.
  • Improved joint function: As flexibility naturally decreases with age, stretching can help restore lost joint motion and improve function.
  • Improved athletic performance: Muscles and tendons generate more force under tension when they are supple and compliant, which can be influenced by regular stretching.
  • Improved muscle health: Mobility exercises can increase the amount of stress muscles can handle in high tension activities that involve jumping and cutting movements.

To get the most out of flexibility, the AAOS recommends these simple, yet important guidelines. Make sure to warm up before stretching because stretching cold muscles can cause injury. Stretch slowly and gently. By breathing into the stretch, you can avoid muscle tension. Try to relax and hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds.

Bouncing stretches – ballistic stretching – should be avoided because it can cause injury, according to the AAOS. And lastly, stretching should not hurt. If you feel pain, take the stretch easier, breathe deeply and relax into it.

Source: AAOS news release

+ Learn about the Active Isolated Stretching method, which provides effective, facilitated stretching of major muscle groups and physiological restoration of superficial and deep fascial planes.

+ Read about the Myofascial Release physical therapy program at Bon Secours In Motion. Myofascial release is a therapeutic massage that gently manipulates the fascia – the tough, connective tissue that covers the body like a web stretching from head to toe.