Have you ever noticed how when a cat or dog gets up from resting, they have a good stretch before they start moving?

Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a good range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight, then when you call on the muscles for activity they are weak and unable to extend fully. This puts you at risk from joint pain, strains, and muscle damage.

As well as being an important part of any exercise programme, stretching is also essential for rehabilitation, for example after an injury. It is suitable for people of all ages and abilities

The benefits of stretching

• Increased flexibility
• Increased range of motion
• Less recovery time after physical activity
• Increased blood flow to the muscle tissue
• Better posture
• Improved co-ordination and balance
• Helps to heal and prevent joint and back pain
• Good stress relief

Simple daily stretches will make a big difference - you do not need to stretch every muscle and it doesn’t need to take long - just think of a dog or cat stretching each time it moves from resting.

How to stretch effectively

1. Warm up

Stretching from cold increases the risk of a pulled muscle. Do a few minutes of low intensity movement, such as walking while pumping the arms, to get the blood flowing and the body warm

2. Hold the stretch
Gently hold your stretch for at least 30 seconds as it takes some time for the tissue to lengthen. Tight areas can be held for longer, up to 60 seconds.

3. Relax and breath
Focus on fully relaxing into the stretch - don't hold your breath and try to relax further with each exhale.

4. Don't bounce
Keep still in your stretch position, as bouncing can cause tiny tears in the muscle which form scar tissue as they heal. Scar tissue is tight and over time this will reduce your flexibility, causing more stiffness and pain.

5. Work within your ability
If you feel pain then you are overstretching and won’t be adding any benefit. Reduce the intensity until you feel a satisfying but comfortable stretch.

6. Stretch both sides
It’s important to balance both sides of the body to keep your joint motion as even as possible; however, if one side is noticeable tighter you might hold the stretches on that side for longer.

If you have suffered ongoing pain and stiffness seek advice from a physical therapist, who can assess your muscle strength and tailor a stretching program to fit your needs.

Stretching increases blood flow to your muscles.