Physiotherapy is all about proactive movement, and in this post we’ll explain how active stretching is best used before dynamic movements or exercise, while passive stretching is best for recovery post-workout.
Why Range of Motion (ROM) Matters
Stretching is widely used to increase range of motion (ROM) of joints, for both athletic performance, and rehabilitation. The ability of tissues to adapt in response to lengthening is important for function, repair, and performance. The tension created by a muscle can be active or passive. Active tension describes the contraction of a muscle, while passive describes the elongation of a muscle past its resting length. When a muscle is stretched actively or passively, this can elicit changes in the muscle that improve ROM at the joint.
Joint range of motion is often overlooked, but crucial in movement. Having increased or maximal joint ROM enables better movement for sports, daily living activities, and decreased risk of injury. By creating length in muscles, this can allow joints to reach their optimal ROM. Although the mobility joints depends on other factors as well, stretching is one method by which ROM can be improved.
Active vs. Passive, Which is Best?
There are four parts to stretching that have to be kept in mind in any routine: intensity, duration, frequency and stretch position. Duration, frequency and stretch position are easier to measure in terms of time, number of sets and the position the stretch is performed in (seated, supine, prone etc.) Intensity is more difficult to measure, as it’s dependent on how you feel during the stretch. Besides these four essential aspects of stretching, it is also important to note when to be doing active and when to be doing passive movements.
Research from the last few years shows that performing static stretching can impair subsequent performance, whereas dynamic stretching may have no effect, or can improve performance. It’s why dynamic exercises are typically performed before a movement, a workout or a sport to optimize performance during the activity itself. For example, if you’ve been dealing with low back pain, it would be worthwhile to actively stretch the area with movements such as a cat/cow or supine leg crossovers first. These stretches will actively contract the muscles in that preferred area, whilst staying within normal range.