Papercut and colored pencil art by Sheryl Aronson X 5

Saturday, October 16, 2010

S-t-r-e-t-c-h Your Muscles

Stretching benefits the body in so many ways.  When I was younger, they told us to stretch before exercising so we wouldn’t hurt ourselves.  Now we are told to warm up before stretching so we don’t hurt ourselves.  These both make sense, if you think about it.  Warming up first loosens the muscle fibers, so you can stretch more fully without tearing the fibers.  Stretching loosens the muscles further, so you can exercise more intensely with less chance of muscle tears.  
One of the groups that I lead at my job on two inpatient psych units is exercise.  I have music, and we do a variety of stretches.  I focus on the neck and shoulders, because those muscles can get really tense when you are stressed.  I do stretches for all the muscle groups, starting with the head, and working the way down to the feet.  I sometimes have people tell me that they can’t exercise for one reason or another.  I have an answer for just about every excuse:  They can sit in a chair to exercise, they can choose which exercises to do and which not to do, and I can modify most of the exercises to fit different abilities and disabilities. 
On the Sjogren’s Syndrome email list, SS-L, there are people who say they can’t exercise because it makes their symptoms worse.  Even to them, I would say that exercise can be helpful, but it depends on how you define exercise.  I think that no matter what your physical status, stretching is good for you.  You may not be able to do aerobics or strengthening exercises, but stretches can be as gentle or as intense as you want.  Stretches help to relax tense muscles and they prevent or decrease contractures.  They help you to maintain your range of motion so you can reach up to a top shelf or bend down to put your shoes on. 
I have had tendonitis in my elbow and plantar fasciitis in my foot for months.  I have tried injections (which helped the most of anything, but only temporarily), medications, various rub on concoctions and massage.  Most recently, I have been stretching the related muscles several times each day, and I think that both the tendonitis and the fasciitis may be turning a corner, and starting to ease. 
www.YouTube.com is a wonderful resource for all kinds of information.   I may write more about it in a future post.  For now, I will just tell you that some of the stretches I have been doing were shown to me by my massage therapist, others I learned from YouTube.  Make sure you use common sense when getting information from YouTube.  Anyone can post a video there, most are good and helpful, but some are just the opinion of the creator, and have no basis in reality.

As I write this post, my kitten is sleeping on the couch next to me.  Cats naturally stretch throughout the day, rounding their back, or extending their front paws and sticking their butt up in the air.  My kitten has stretched several times in the last few minutes, like she is demonstrating for me to write about her.  We can learn alot from watching our pets. We should stretch throughout the day, whenever we get up from sitting or lying down, and especially when we ave been in the same position for awhile.  A good example is to get up and stretch out every half hour when you are working on your computer or reading.. Wikihow has good instructions for a variety of stretches, as well as information about stretching properly.  

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