Stretching refers to the patient- or therapist-led movement of joints and limbs into positions of maximal range and tension. Stretching is used for the treatment and reduction of many issues, including joint stiffness, muscular soreness, pain, or joint instability.
Stretching is an instinctive activity, and you may stretch as soon as you get out of bed, as well as stretching throughout the day to relieve sensations of tightness or stiffness. In clinic, stretching can be used as a treatment or as an assessment. In treatment, stretching is used to address muscular or joint stiffness by having the patient or therapist move the limb under assessment through range and apply force at the end of that range. In assessment, stretching is used to investigate the flexibility of joints and limbs, as well as to address the underlying factors behind stiffness or pain. Stretching can also be used to assess the nature of neurological problems like neuropathy or carpal tunnel. In this manner, stretching is used as a combination assessment and treatment.
Typically, stretching will be performed alongside other treatments, to best address the problem and to increase the likelihood of longterm functional improvement. Stretching is commonly prescribed as part of an independent exercise program, and you may be guided through a number of simple stretches to perform at home before, during or after a program of exercise.
Stretching is a useful, flexible and easy means by which people can improve their mobility and address their discomfort. Its use in clinic is common and its applications are very versatile. However, the type of stretches you are given and the time you spend performing them will depend on the discretion of your treating clinician, as well as the nature, history and context of your presenting discomfort. It is important to ask any questions you may have about the use of stretching in the clinic before proceeding with your treatment.