What Is Prescriptive Stretching?

Tamsen Butler
Sportive woman stretching arm

A regular stretching routine is an easy way to prevent injuries, eliminate pain, and improve balance and flexibility. However, it is essential to understand how to stretch properly. Prescriptive stretching creates a customized stretching routine for individuals based on their needs and medical conditions.

Created by a Doctor of Naprapathy

Written by Dr. Kristian Berg, the book Prescriptive Stretching (available on Amazon for around $15) reveals ways to customize stretching regimens in order to treat pain related to injuries or everyday life. Prescriptive stretching also involves initially assessing pain to get a better idea of what stretches are needed to alleviate the pain. The stretches prescribed should help the body move better and with less pain.

The Importance of Stretching

Modern-day sedentary lifestyles may be the culprit when it comes to pain. "Our natural range of movement has decreased because we are less active and sit for longer hours," said Dr. Berg. "Stretching could be one way to increase our range of movement and reduce different kinds of pain."

Increased Flexibility

An increase in flexibility is not only a way to measure the benefits of stretching, but can also help lessen the aches and pains associated with a sedentary lifestyle. "Depending on your goal, stretching can help you perform certain movements that you haven't been able to do before because it increases your flexibility. But it can also help reduce/remove pain that is caused from inactivity," said Dr. Berg.

Decreased Injury Risk

Stretching can help prevent injuries by stretching out tight muscles, said Dr. Berg. "Stretching will help to elongate tight muscles," he said. "A tight muscle will affect the way we move and our posture which in itself could cause an injury. But it will also affect how we perform an exercise; a tight muscle will change our range of movement which will strain the joint capsules and put pressure on other muscles."

Individualized Stretching

"There are different ways to stretch, for example, a hamstring muscle," said Dr. Berg. "In the end it is the stretch that takes the origin as far away from the insertion as possible without affecting other muscles or joints that will be the most effective stretch."

Stretching for Everyone

Stretching shouldn't only be used in conjunction with a workout; it's important for everyone to stretch to help the body perform at its best. Even people who are inactive should consider prescriptive stretching. "Inactivity will cause a reduced range of movement which is directly linked to different kinds of pain," said Dr. Berg. "Sometimes stretching is even more important if you are inactive."

Acute Injury

Prescriptive stretching - and any other type of stretching - should be avoided while healing from an injury unless the stretches are prescribed by a physical therapist or physician. Should people avoid prescriptive stretching while in pain? "It all depends on what kind of pain," explained Dr. Berg. "If you have a fracture, acute torn ligament/muscle or a dislocated joint, stretching should be avoided."

Pain Relief

If pain isn't caused by an acute injury, "stretching could definitively help as long as it is performed in a correct way," said Dr. Berg. "It is also important to remember that the stretch can be felt in other areas than where the pain is."

Mature man stretching in yoga stance in bedroom

Complementary to Exercise

Stretching is important, but it will not fulfill activity requirements for optimal health on its own. "Stretch exercises will not improve your cardiovascular or muscular fitness," said Dr. Berg. "A good fitness routine should entail stretching and some training each day which involves both the heart and the muscles."

Stretching Correctly

Prescriptive stretching requires people to stretch in a specific way, according to Dr. Berg's instructions. Stretch when you are warm - not cold - especially if you are particularly stiff.

Stretch Slowly

Stretches should be done slowly and not rushed. Consider holding a stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds before moving on to the next. Breathe through the stretch.

Pain-Free

While stretches can involve some discomfort, or what Dr. Berg calls, "good pain - not negative pain," there shouldn't be any actual pain in a stretch. If you experience pain, you need to stop the stretch.

Target the Muscle

Prescriptive stretching helps people select the right stretches based on what's needed for each individual. Stretches need to target whatever muscle is needed in order to perform best.

Avoid Hyperextension

Prescriptive stretches are designed to affect a specific muscle, as mentioned above. But it's important to not stretch to the point where a joint or other muscle is put at risk for injury.

PNF Stretching

Dr. Berg also states that PNF stretching (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) is an effective stretching technique to increase range of motion. PNF targets specific muscles and features a specific formula for successful stretching:

  1. Stretch the muscle for 10 seconds
  2. Contract the muscle for five seconds (which will facilitate muscular inhibition) - this is a very important phase!
  3. Relax the muscle for five seconds, then try to stretch even further

Intentional Stretching

Stretching should be intentional and targeted, said Dr. Berg. "To 'just stretch' with a bad technique or done haphazardly will not help in the same way as a properly performed stretch that is done on a regular basis." Stretching on a regular basis - up to 10 times a day - will yield the best results.

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What Is Prescriptive Stretching?