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Arthritis Today

A New Way to Stretch

Simple stretches help improve flexibility and can also ease joint pain.

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Stretching as a warm-up prior to exercise may be a practice you learned back in grade school gym class. Today, experts debate its effectiveness. The truth? “Stretching is helpful,” says Amy Ashmore, PhD, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise. Stretching particularly benefits those with arthritis by lubricating joints and enhancing and maintaining range-of-motion.

Keep these basics in mind:

Avoid stretching a cold muscle

Only perform "static stretching” (stretch and hold) after a five to 10 minute warm-up, says Ashmore. A warmed-up muscle can stretch longer and endure more, says Duane Knudson, PhD, professor and chair of the department of health, physical education and recreation at Texas State University.

Use dynamic or “active” stretching as a warm-up

Dynamic stretches mimic movements used in the sport or activity. Dynamic warm-ups prepare the body for activity by helping to increase blood flow and muscle temperature.

If you're preparing to play tennis, for example, you’ll want to practice side and front lunges as part of your warm-up – movements you'll use to reach for the ball.

If you're walking, you’ll want to start off at a slow pace and gradually pick up speed.

"Light, gentle rhythmic movements work best for the average person," says Ashmore. "Go through a shallow range of motion (i.e. a half-squat vs. a full squat) until you're thoroughly warmed up."

Even professional football players use dynamic warm-ups before a game. "You'll see players high-kicking down the field and going through a full range of motion instead of partner stretching for 10 minutes like they used to do," says Knudson.

Of course, you should always consult your physician or physical therapist before trying new stretches.

Stretch at the end of your workout

"Stretching at the end of the cool-down phase, after exercise when your muscles are still warm, helps to maintain long-term flexibility benefits," Knudson says.

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