Growing up as a year-round athlete, I’m no stranger to stretch circles. You know, the ones where the team gathers before a match and pretends to do a lot more stretching than they are actually doing? Maybe this wasn’t the case for everyone. But it was the case for me. I was lucky when I was younger in that most of my injuries were manageable. Aside from some knee problems, rectified by wearing a brace, I was pretty physically stable.
Now in my thirties, I can’t tell you how much I regret not taking stretching more seriously. The injuries I thought were minor when I was younger have proven to be a bit of a pain in the ass, since I hadn’t been taking the time to stretch before and after workouts. Over the past probably five years, I have noticed a substantial increase in pain – and reduced flexibility – all across the right side of my body. The odd thing about this is that I am left-handed, but given most of injuries were sustained from soccer, a sport which I played as a righty, I suppose it makes sense.
It started with my right knee. This was always my problem area, so it wasn’t much of a surprise. I knew I had tendonitis in both knees from a young age, and I was always fine as long as I didn’t put too much impact on them.
My hip was the next to go. As a goalie, between hyperextending my leg to punt a soccer ball and diving on a myriad of surfaces, both indoor and outdoor, this was bound to happen.
Then the sciatica kicked in. Sometimes that would get so bad (and still does) that my leg will go numb or my back will spasm. Imagine a Charley Horse, but worse because you’ve essentially lost all mobility.
Last but not least, my shoulder. I recall when I was seven or so showing my dad that my shoulder could pop in and out of place. As a kid, I thought it was a cool trick. As an adult, I have a genuine concern that it could pop out and stay that way, eventually requiring surgery. Not to mention, this special skill was compounded by the fact that I separated it at least three times in the last twelve years. (Full disclosure: Two of those times were due to drunken shenanigans in college. The people at the Yale/New Haven Hospital were getting to know me by name. Not my proudest moments.)
So, why do you care about my injuries? Maybe you don’t. But it should help you put your own joint and muscle health into perspective. Because I was lazy and didn’t really think stretching was that critical to my performance when I was younger, I am paying for it now. Even just sitting here, writing at this very moment, my hip feels strained. I’m going to be getting up momentarily to pop into pigeon pose and feel the sweet pain of a good stretch. And that’s why I am writing this.
Besides increasing your flexibility, stretching has a multitude of other health benefits:
- Boosts energy levels (Perfect for when you wake up or your post-lunch food coma)
- Increases stamina (So you can workout harder and longer)
- Improves circulation (Which is great to help reduce soreness)
- Decreases risk of injury (Unfortunately, you can’t always fix what’s already broken)
- Reduces stress (Yoga, anyone?)
We all need to take stretching seriously. The long-term benefits are crucial to your overall health – and the short-term benefits can provide almost instantaneous relief. So, take a few extra minutes out of your day to stretch – when you wake up, at work, before you go to bed…whenever you can! You won’t be sorry!
Be mindful. Be healthy. Love your life.