The Post Exercise Stretch As An Important Tool In
Preventing Martial Arts Trauma
By Bruce Everett Miller, PA-C
Editor's Note: This is a second in a series
on stretching. See the first article by Miller entitled,
As An Important Tool In Preventing Martial Arts Trauma.
One aspect of stretching which seems to be almost
universally ignored is the stretch which should be
done during the cooling off period. When the body
exercises for any significant amount of time there
are waste products which build up in the muscles.
There are also small amounts of muscle damage which
occurs to small muscle fibers. The third thing which
happens is a re-contraction of the body's muscular
When we are done stretching (correctly) most of our
muscles are loose and flexible. As we work, however,
we exert force on the joints of our body. As we have
said earlier each one of these joints are surrounded
by small muscle fibers to prevent joint movement in
unwanted directions. In order to do this, these muscles
tense up (contract), and soon non-moving joint muscles
can be even tighter than before we began our initial
stretch. Note, however, that it does take a small
period of time for this to happen and those muscles
which are in motion may tighten up but will not be
as tight as they were before you stretched out.
tightening of small motion joints is particularly
important in our back. Whenever we do any significant
exercise like running or weight lifting or even kicking
and hitting a bag in martial arts our body's joints
adjust to compensate for the force load. Vertebrae
shift to take up the shock of our feet striking the
floor as we run or the impact of striking a bag or
lifting weights. While this may be desirable while
we are under these stress loads, the vertebrae are
also supposed to resume their normal alignment once
the force load has been removed. However, because
the muscles surrounding the vertebrae (vertebrae are
joints) have contracted, it may be hard for the body
to regain its correct alignment.
Since the real reason we stretch should not only
be to prevent injury but to enable us to move smoother
and easier throughout our entire active life styles,
we need to restore the looseness of the muscles we
have caused to tighten. The post exercise stretch
can do this.
The proper method is gradually to decrease the amount
of work you are doing. You should continue to do enough
work to generate small amounts of heat in the main
muscles you had been using, as you stretch back out
again. This gives you the advantage of allowing those
muscles that are already loose to contract slowly
while you loosen up the contracted muscles.
THE AM/PM STRETCH
The fact is that most people who are on their feet
a lot have pain in their back, usually their lower
back. In many cases, the cause of the pain has nothing
to do with any muscle, bone, tendon or ligament damage.
The real cause of the damage is improper alignment
of the spine.
The spines of the vertebrae stick out from each side
of the vertebrae and from the back. When these spines
are in proper alignment, they fit into the parts of
the body which are designed, space wise, for their
presence. When they move out of this natural position,
they press on the tissue in the area which occupies
this new space.
body's vertebrae are supposed to be able to twist
and turn. If this was not true there would be no reason
for these joints. The body would be comprised of solid
bone in the back which would be stronger and less
susceptible to being damaged. By being able to twist,
the vertebrae can accommodate the way we turn our
bodies and also help take up some of the shock when
we walk or do some other shock generating actions.
What keeps these vertebras from moving too far is
the ligaments and muscles which surround each vertebral
joint. These tendons, ligaments and muscles are supposed
to let the vertebral joints rotate in the correct
angles but also keep them from moving out of position
with each other.
Unfortunately, our body works on a use or lose principle.
When we do not stretch out these muscles and ligaments,
they naturally tend to shorten with time and age.
Soon we are left with ligaments and muscles which
give us the range of motion we need for most of our
daily activities, but just barely.
When we make that sudden movement, we can force the
spines of our vertebrae over the top of muscles, tendons
and ligaments which were supposed to stretch out of
the way when the vertebrae rotated, but couldn't because
they weren't long enough any more. Compound that fact
with the changes in posture and stress loads caused
by wearing shoes with heels and you quickly begin
to understand why our backs can hurt, even when we
have never had a noticeable back injury.
Many people mistakenly believe that their problem
is only related to lack of exercise and start a workout
program. Luckily in most cases, their exercise program
generates some added stretching and thus does in fact
help decrease their pain. Assuming they don't produce
an injury by not stretching those overly tight muscles
before they exercise them. The advantage built into
martial arts is that it causes you, at least in most
styles, to have that regular stretching program.
What the back really needs is to be stretched out
several times each day. It also doesn't hurt to involve
yourself in a general toning program designed to improve
muscle tone and maintain proper body posture.
What I recommend to friends and patients
is that they stretch out a minimum of twice a day.
I usually recommend that they stretch the first thing
in the morning and the last thing just before they
go to bed at night. These are excellent times because
it is easy to get into a routine. The important thing
to remember is that you should never bounce. Try to
put the palms of your hands on the floor as you keep
your knees locked. Initially most people find that
they can't stretch this far. They find that the backs
of their knees and thighs are too tight. After several
weeks they find that their range of motion has significantly
improved, and even if they can't reach the floor yet,
their pain has significantly decreased.
DO NOT DO THESE PROCEDURES IF YOU HAVE HAD BACK SURGERY
OR A BACK INJURY, UNTIL CLEARED BY YOUR PHYSICIAN!
**** WARNING ***
The proper position for this stretch
is to stand with your feet at shoulder width. Lock
your knees and slowly bend over as far as you can.
Hold this position for at least 20 seconds. The second
part of the stretch is to cross your legs by putting
one foot just in front of the other. Again bend over
as far as you can. Do not bounce! Hold it for 20 seconds.
Lastly reverse your feet and bend over again.
The whole procedure takes only slightly more than
1 minute, but within a month you will notice an improvement
in how far you can stretch and how you feel.
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About the Author:
Bruce Everett Miller, PA-C, is a 6th degree black
belt in the style of Quan Li K'an and a teacher of
Tai Chi which he combines with his Western medical
training as a Physician's Assistant to provide his
own unique perspective on the martial arts. He is
a well known teacher, seminar leader and author who
has produced thirteen books and four videos on various
karate related subjects including freefighting, pressure
points, the principles of kata, Acupuncture, and light
force knockouts. For more information on his books,
vidoes and seminars see: www.cloudnet.com/~bemiller/
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