Stretching And Flexibility

A regular stretching program is important to maintain optimal length of muscles and other soft tissue structures (e.g., tendons, fascia, and connective tissue). If you have tightness in any areas, you increase your risk of injury or possible contractures secondary to abnormal shortening of the muscles or other soft tissue structures. Ultimately, such tightness reduces mobility, because of the decrease in range of motion, and makes you more prone to sprains and strains. Finally, a stretching program reduces muscle tension and increases relaxation.

Many people with MS experience spas-ticity. Increased spasticity will often increase muscle stiffness and tightness. If untreated, spasticity can result in pain, reduced range of motion, and even contractures. Studies have shown that a combination of antispas-ticity medication and stretching is the most effective means of treating mild to moderate spasticity.

Stretching is best performed slowly and statically. Slow, static stretching—stretching that does not include bouncing—prevents the stretch reflex from being activated. Any time muscles are stretched too far (or too quickly), a nerve signal is sent to the muscle to contract. Therefore, if you stretch too far, either by bouncing or overstretching, the muscle will contract to keep from being injured and eliminate positive effects of the stretch.

Stretching should be relaxing and feel comfortable. To promote good muscle length, you should hold mild tension in the muscles or other soft tissue structures for 20 to 60 seconds. You should perform each stretch three to five times. Your program may be designed for you to be in a sitting, lying, or standing position. It may be beneficial to perform your stretching program either with an assistant or with assistive aids such as belts, towels, or other everyday items.

Generally, stretching programs are performed once per day, but in certain cases, they may be recommended more often. Consult with your healthcare professionals to assess your degree of tightness—and spasticity—to determine how often you need to perform your stretching exercises. They will also be able to help you with the appropriate types of stretching exercises to maximize benefit and minimize fatigue.

There are books on stretching which provide information and illustrations on different types of stretching. Many of these books are available through the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

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