Did You Know? Stretching Works to Prevent Injury, Improve Athletic Performance

Did you know that stretching can help improve flexibility? Better flexibility may improve your performance in physical activities and decrease your risk of injuries by helping your joints retain fluidity in their full range of motion.

A regular stretching program can help lengthen your muscles and make daily living activities easier – whether that be doing simple exercises at your desk to reduce the risk of work-related repetitive stress injuries or taking part in an organized yoga class.

“Flexibility is just one component of yoga, along with balance, strength, precision, alignment and endurance,” said Terese Ireland, a nurse at TMC who also teaches weekly yoga classes for employees on campus.

Even so, she said, flexibility is key in helping to prevent injury by keeping the body more supple and nimble. A flexible spine also helps in preserving posture, since slumping forward and downward can lead to neck and shoulder pain and an eventual rounding of the spine.

Her students have reported less pain in their lower back or hips with regular practice. One of her students, who lifts heavy loads throughout the day, has reported having to take less ibuprofen.

Dr. Matt Heinz, a hospitalist at TMC, said as we age, our connective tissues change and we become less limber. “If you have maintained those soft tissues and connective tissues and joints, you’re going to not only better tolerate a workout regimen, but you’re also more able to respond to a sudden change in position, like a fall,” he said.

It also helps with stress reduction, Dr. Heinz added. “Stress worsens your immune system, increases your blood pressure and makes you have a more rapid heart rate,” he explained. “Anything that reduces stress is generally going to make you healthier.”

Diana Streitfeld, a volunteer who works in the nursery at TMC for Children, reported she’s noticed a big improvement in her alignment and posture since she began practicing yoga, adding she also feels more in tune with her body.

Her flexibility has improved as well. “I had lost some of that flexibility over the years and now I’ve noticed that it’s coming back and I’ve gotten a lot more flexible,” Streitfeld said.

Aside from the physical aspects, Ireland noted yoga is also good for the mind and spirit. “It’s an absolute stress reliever and energy builder. You can walk into class, exhausted, and walk out feeling two inches taller and energized.”

As a clinical nurse leader, Ireland said yoga has helped her find another kind of flexibility: “I’ve always loved what I do as a nurse, but it’s really helped me find even more compassion and flexibility with patients, nurses and doctors.”

Ireland said the No. 1 reason people are reluctant to try yoga? They fear they aren’t flexible enough. Her response?  “Then yoga is perfect for you. It will take time, but if you consistently stick with it, you will gain that flexibility,” she said, cautioning not to let ego reign over patience, since improvements take time.

The other misconception, fueled in part by media images of lithe yogis, is that a person has to be thin to participate. “The intention of those who brought yoga to America was to help all people. Yes, it’s an art form, but it’s also for overall health, and one of the great things about yoga is that it helps people find their way to a healthier lifestyle over time. It’s not about walking in and starting a diet.”

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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461
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