Researchers at University of Limerick have found that static stretching is more effective at improving hamstring flexibility than dynamic stretching, involving gentle swinging. The study looked at athletes with lingering hamstring stiffness after otherwise recovering from an injury. The static stretching involved three sets of gently leaning the upper body forward over an extended leg, and holding for 30 seconds. The dynamic stretches involved three sets of slow leg swings, forward and back.
While this study looked specifically at athletes recovering from injuries, it is sound advice for all of us. Generally, stretching should be done using the static method. Dynamic stretching is often less effective and can lead to injury. When stretching, stretch just to the point of slight pull or discomfort, hold for 10 – 30 seconds, and release. Always remember to keep breathing while you stretch. Holding your breath creates tension in your body – the opposite of what you’re going for in a stretch.
Proper stretching is essential for full recovery from many surgeries. Surgery causes scar tissue at the incision and often tightness in the surrounding muscles. In addition, radiation frequently causes increased tightness as well. If left unaddressed, this tightness can, over time, cause some serious and painful problems (back & neck pain, shoulder weakness, weakness & pain of other joints).
This is true for many surgeries and cancers, but is especially true for breast cancer. Surgery for breast cancer is often more extensive and can be more debilitating than many surgeries. Many people suffer from limited range of motion after breast cancer surgery. The first step, once you’ve been cleared by your doctor, is to begin an effective stretching routine to regain range of motion. Here are some basic stretches for regaining range of motion after breast surgery. I repeat this information periodically in this blog because it is so important.
A few chest stretches: always remember to stretch just to the point of slight stretch, hold for 10-30 seconds and release.
Wall crawl: Best thing to start with! Stretches pectoralis major & minor. Stand facing the wall, about six inches away. Place your hand on the wall and begin slowly walking your fingers up the wall. Go only until you feel a slight stretch. Do not stretch to the point of pain! Slowly walk your arm back down. As this movement gets easier you can modify the stretch to continue increasing your range of motion. Begin turning your body away from the wall to increase the stretch. Eventually you should be able to get your body to perpendicular to the wall and crawl your arm up to the side.
Open shoulder stretch: This is nice – you can do it anywhere, anytime. Gently stretches chest (pectorals) and front of shoulder (anterior deltoids). Place the hand of the side of your surgery on your shoulder of the same side. Let your elbow hang down by your side. Gently squeeze your shoulder blade while you draw your elbow toward the back. At the same time, turn your head gently toward the opposite shoulder.
Chest stretch – arms outstretched: Stretches and opens the chest. Sit or stand with your arms outstretched to the side at a height that is comfortable. Gently squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull your arms toward the back. If you have limited range of motion in your shoulder, you can begin with your arms down at a comfortable angle. As your range of motion improves, raise your arms out to the side for the stretch, eventually getting them up to shoulder-height.
Shoulder stretch: Stretches back of the shoulders and shoulder blades. Bend your right elbow and raise your arm to shoulder-height, so your arm is parallel to the floor. Place your right hand on your left shoulder. Grab your elbow with your left hand and pull it gently across your chest until you feel a slight stretch across the back of your shoulder. Hold for at least 10 seconds and repeat on left side.
Butterfly stretch: Stretches chest muscles. Sit or stand. Place your hands behind your head with your elbows pointing forward. Slowly open your elbows out to the side until you feel a slight stretch. Hold for at least 10 seconds, and return to the starting position.
These are just a few. They’re really important – the more extensive your surgery, the more important it is to stretch. And make sure you’ve regained good range of motion before you begin any strengthening exercises.