The Power of Stretching

I don’t think there’s any area of our bodies that generates more complaints than our lower back. By the time we’ve passed 50, most of us have had multiple periods of discomfort.
I’m now 76 and my lower back problem dates back to a herniated disc, discovered in 1987. Three epidurals spread over three months plus lots of stretching and swimming laps solved the problem in a relatively short time. I’ve been generally pain-free since then – until a few months ago.

I experienced some discomfort last summer when playing golf in Bucks County, PA, where we live half of the year, particularly when I was walking and carrying my bag. Unfortunately, I ignored it, assuming it would go away in a few days. That worked until, one night, the pain was so severe that sleep was difficult.

What went wrong? I exercise regularly every week, doing long bike rides on three days and strength training on two. Why did I develop this problem in spite of my activity? It took me too long to figure it out.

Cycling is a linear activity; all of the movement is in the legs, pumping up and down. Strength training also is primarily linear; we’re lifting a weight generally in an up and down motion. What neither of these activities does is improve flexibility. In fact, they do just the opposite. And guess who had fallen behind on his stretching routines.

When we returned to southwest Florida in early November, I immediately scheduled an appointment with my favorite chiropractor, Chip Shemansky. Chip began by stretching me in ways that I hadn’t experienced in years. The level of discomfort during this was high, but so were the results. Three visits a week for two weeks and I’m almost back to normal.

Chip reminded me that if we stretch regularly we retain much – but not all – of the flexibility of our youth. If we don’t, our muscles tighten up and we experience back pain. The strain on the muscles in activities like golf and tennis is too great.

I’ve also started daily stretching on my own – big time. I’m now devoting up to an hour a day solely to stretching. I expect to be able to get this down to 30 minutes in a few months. I’ve also started swimming laps again plus I’m doing other exercises in the water. Be sure that you include stretching as a regular part of any exercise program. If you cycle, spend time stretching as soon as you finish a ride, while your muscles are warm. The same is true for tennis, walking or running.

Note: This article was originally published in the News-Press, Fort Myers, FL on December 10, 2013.

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2 Responses to The Power of Stretching

  1. Neale Sweet says:

    Quite the cautionary tale, for me anyway, because I know I don’t do enough stretching. Or swimming. Some say it’s good to mix up your exercise routing so you can “surprise” your muscles, confuse them even so they become more adaptable as well as stronger and more flexible. Easier said than done.

  2. I learned to stretch after I hut my back years ago, Harry you might remember. I now stretch almost every morning my son in law who is a chiropractor has shown me some excellent ones and also gave me a roller that use to keep my back in good shape. BTW it has also helps me with my golf swing.

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