Why Should I Stretch?

The purpose of stretching is multi-factorial offering numerous benefits. First, stretching elongates a muscle to allow more freedom of movement of the joint that the muscle crosses, therefore reducing excessive or imbalanced muscle forces that can cause dysfunction. Second, stretching improves flexibility, and for the elderly, this may reduce the risk of falls. Next, stretching increases range of motion (ROM), circulation and blood flow, and improves posture, balance and coordination. Also, stretching promotes relaxation and reduces stress. Other benefits of stretching include reducing muscle spasm, which in return can reduce pain. As well, it can assist with muscle recovery after exercise and with reducing delayed-onset muscle soreness. Finally, stretching can balance muscle groups that are unbalanced due to poor posture, or from performance of repetitive activities. Table 3 summarizes these benefits.2-12

Table 3. Summary of the Top 10 Benefits of Stretching.
  1. Increases ROM and Flexibility
  2. Decrease Falls
  3. Increases Circulation and Blood Flow
  4. Improve Posture
  5. Improves Balance and Coordination
  6. Promotes Relaxation
  7. Reduces Stress
  8. Decreases Muscle Spasms
  9. Decreases Muscle Soreness
  10. Balances Muscle Groups

For dental clinicians, the areas that may be vulnerable to tightness or imbalances include the neck, chest/shoulders, wrists/hands/fingers, hips, and the low back. Therefore, it is important for the clinician to adopt a stretching regime targeting specific regions that potentially can trigger pain, spasm, and imbalance. If these or other symptoms currently hinder your practice, then start immediately to manage the symptoms before they intensify. General guidelines will maximize the effectiveness and safety of your stretching routine. Table 4 offers several strategies to apply to your routine.13,14 Use the guidelines in Table 4 when considering the activities presented in the next section.

Table 4. Stretching Guidelines.
  1. Warm-up prior to stretching for activity preparation. Blood flow to the muscles enhances the ease of stretching. An adequate warm-up should increase the body's core temperature. Breaking a sweat often signifies warm-up.
  2. Hold for 30 seconds. For tighter muscles, hold each stretch for 60 seconds. Execute each stretch 1-3 times.
  3. Don't bounce. Ballistic or bouncing stretches may tear or injure tissue consequently forming scar tissue. Scarring intensifies tightness and hampers flexibility.
  4. Slow static stretching of muscle offers greater safety than bouncing.
  5. Avoid painful stretching. Stretch until you feel a slight pulling, but not pain.
  6. Stay relaxed. Breathe deeply and avoid holding your breath while stretching. Exhale as you move into the stretch.
  7. Stretch daily. Perform some stretches multiple times per day to alleviate tension from static positioning.

The following stretches, nerve glide, and joint mobilization offer the dental professional a specific means to combat occupational pain of musculoskeletal origin. Apply the guidelines in Table 4 whenever possible.