Choosing the right type of stretching during your rehabilitation program will have a tremendous effect on the speed of your recovery, while choosing the wrong type could lead to further injury and a very slow recovery.
So what type of stretching is best for which phase of the recovery process?
The recovery process of a soft tissue injury can be broken down into a number of phases and it's important that the right type of stretching be employed for each phase.
The First 72 Hours
Without a doubt, the most effective, initial treatment for soft tissue injury is the R.I.C.E.R. regime. This involves the application of (R) rest, (I) ice, (C) compression, (E) elevation and obtaining a (R) referral for appropriate medical treatment.
Where the R.I.C.E.R. regime has been used immediately after the occurrence of an injury, it has been shown to significantly reduce recovery time. R.I.C.E.R. forms the first, and perhaps most important stage of injury rehabilitation, providing the early base for the complete recovery of injury.
However, during this phase of the rehabilitation process NO STRETCHING should be used at all! This is not the time to start stretching. Concentrate on the R.I.C.E.R. regime and avoid all stretching or any activity that puts stress on the injured area. Stretching during this early stage of the rehabilitation process will only cause more damage to the injured tissues. Avoid stretching during the first 72 hours.
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. So what is static and passive stretching?
The important point to remember during this phase of the rehabilitation process is light, gentle stretching. Never, never, never do any activity that hurts the injured area. Of course you may feel some discomfort, but never push yourself to the point where you're feeling pain. Be very careful with any activity you do. Pain is the warning sign; don't ignore it.
The Next 2 to 5 Weeks
The aim of this phase of your rehabilitation is to regain all the fitness components that were lost as a result of the injury. Regaining your flexibility, strength, power, muscular endurance, balance and co-ordination will be the primary focus.
Without this phase of the rehabilitation, there is no hope of completely and permanently making a full recovery from your injury. A quote from a great book called "Sporting injuries" by Peter Dornan & Richard Dunn will help to reinforce the value of this phase of the rehabilitation process.
"The injury symptoms will permanently disappear only after the patient has undergone a very specific exercise program, deliberately designed to stretch and strengthen and regain all parameters of fitness of the damaged structure or structures. Further, it is suggested that when a specific stretching program is followed, thus more permanently reorganising the scar fibres and allowing the circulation to become normal, the painful symptoms will disappear permanently."
So what type of stretching is best to use during this phase? Stick with the static and passive stretching exercises described above, but also include PNF Stretching.
Looking Long Term
Once you're over your injury and have started to regain the fitness components that were lost during the injury process, it's time to focus on making the injured area stronger and more flexible that it was before the injury occurred. To do this, the best types of stretches to use are dynamic and active stretching exercises.
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