Most of us are aware that immediately after a soft tissue injury the R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, elevation) technique should be applied, but what do you do after the first 72 hours when most of the initial swelling has subsided?
The most effective treatment at this stage is the use of heat and massage, but including light, gentle static and passive stretching exercises after your heat and massage treatment will help to dramatically speed up the recovery process.
Static stretching is a type of stretching whereby you put the body into a position where the muscle (or group of muscles) to be stretched is under tension. Both the opposing muscle group and the muscles to be stretched are relaxed. The body is then slowly moved to increase the tension of the stretched muscle group. At this point the position is held or maintained to allow the muscles to lengthen.
Passive stretching is very similar to static stretching; however another person or apparatus is used to help further stretch the muscles. Ensure that any apparatus used is solid and stable. When using a partner it is imperative that you trust them and they are responsible for your safety whilst stretching.
It is important to remember during this phase of rehabilitation that any type of stretching should be light and gentle. Any activity that produces pain to the injured area is the wrong type of activity. Be aware that a little discomfort is normal but never push yourself to the point where you’re feeling pain. Unlike strength and cardio training where the harder you push the stronger you get; stretching works the opposite way. Taking time to breathe and commit to a calm gentle approach will always deliver greater results than attacking the stretch. If we push too hard and move too quickly into a stretch we activate a defense mechanism in the body called the “myotatic reflex” which actually instructs the muscle to contract and shorten to prevent injury, obviously the totally opposite reaction you are trying to achieve.
Therefore approach the stretch slowly and the more gentle and relaxed you stretch the more flexible you get. Pain is the warning sign; don’t ignore it.