Get in the Habit of Stretching

 Make simple stretches part of your normal workout routine to help improve flexibility and ease joint pain when you have arthritis.

By Linda Melone

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. But there are some basic cautions to consider when adding stretching to your exercise routine.

The Basics of Stretching

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 a sport or activity. Dynamic warm-ups prepare the body for activity by helping to increase blood flow and muscle temperature. Examples: 

  • If you're preparing to play tennis, 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 (e.g. 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.
  • 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.

Of course, you should always consult your physician or physical therapist before trying any new stretches or adding stretching to your regular routine.

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