If you regularly engage in physical activity or exercise of any duration or intensity, you’ve probably been advised to stretch before and after. Incorporating stretching into a regular warm-up routine prior to exercising helps reduce the risk of tearing, straining, or otherwise injuring muscles and joints. It also helps muscles cool down after physical activity, which can guard against stiffness and soreness later.
Stretching after exercise, in a way, helps preserve the effects of exercise by preventing muscles from seizing up and losing their strength and elasticity. Similarly, stretching helps preserve the effects of massage–including relaxation and flexibility. Though athletes and others who lead highly active lives may stand to benefit most from stretching after bodywork, anyone can enhance the effects of a treatment by stretching. Consult with your massage therapist first to see whether they recommend specific stretches after considering your personal health profile.
Why Stretch after Your Massage?
Deep massage and exercise can affect the muscles in similar ways. Massage increases blood flow and circulation and can create friction in the tissues like vigorous movement does. During massage tissues and muscles are pulled away from one another, which creates the “loose” feeling you might have after a treatment. You might also feel taller, because massage helps counteract the daily compression and gravitational pull we experience.
Stretching after a treatment can keep joints mobile, maintain the looseness in muscles and tissues, and improve flexibility. It will also increase your tolerance for stretching–the more you do any stretch, the easier it becomes over time. Wise massage therapists also stretch before and after giving a massage to optimize body mechanics during the treatment and reduce their own risk of injury, strain, and soreness.
Simple Post-Massage Stretching at Home
Your routine will vary depending on your body’s limitations, your massage therapist’s guidelines, and your own goals. Keep movements slow, maintain a steady breathing pattern, and do not hesitate to modify any stretch for greater comfort. Most stretches are designed to be performed alone, though you can also call upon a friend or partner to assist if you would like help balancing, deepening the stretch, or creating resistance to build strength.
- Standing arm pull + bend: Stand with good spine alignment (hips over ankles with relaxed knees, tailbone relaxed, shoulders over hips, and ears over shoulders). Stretch your arms overhead and alternate reaching the fingertips of each hand up even higher. Keeping your arms stretched above your head, lean side to side. You should feel the stretch in your ribs and oblique muscles. To deepen this stretch, grasp and pull your right wrist as you bend to the left, and pull on your left arm as you bend to the right.
- Forward fold: Slowly bend at the waist, keeping your shoulders and arms relaxed. Rather than exerting pressure to touch your toes or the floor, simply let your upper body dangle in place and let gravity work to decompress your spine. You can sway slowly from side to side to help release tension. Your chin should drop to your chest so your neck isn’t working to hold your head. When you return to standing, do so very slowly and keep your knees bent. Lead this movement with your hips, so that your shoulders and head are the last thing to raise and stack on top of your spine.
- Knee hold: While lying on your back, bring one knee to your chest and hold it in place with clasped hands. Switch knees after 30-60 seconds. This alone is a significant stretch for many people; to deepen it you might press your knee into your palms to create resistance. For other variations, take your knee out to the side, away from your body (hip opener), or cross it over your other leg (twist).
- Cat – cow: On all fours, make sure your back is parallel to the floor as if you’re forming a table. As you inhale, sink your back toward the floor, stretching your tailbone and forehead up toward the sky. Exhale and curve your spine, folding your nose toward your knees. Keep your palms and knees on the floor the entire time, and repeat using your breath as a guide.
Check out the included YouTube videos for more pointers on stretching. If you would like to continue searching for or creating a different custom stretching routine, focus on low-impact movements that are not limited by clothing, space, or time. Tailor your routine to your needs and preferences, taking into account any recommendations from your massage therapist, current pain or injury you’re experiencing, and where you will be doing your stretching.
Precautions for Stretching Exercises
Never push yourself to a greater level of movement than is comfortable. Your range of motion will increase naturally over time, and you won’t do your body any favors by rushing that process. If something causes pain, it’s best to stop attempting that particular stretch and ask your massage therapist for further pointers.
These stretches are best used with massage therapy. While any stretch is likely to prove beneficial for you in some way, pair these with bodywork treatment to get the best of all worlds and start feeling better all around.
- Bandy, W. D., & Irion, J. M. (1994). The effect of time on static stretch on the flexibility of the hamstring muscles. Physical Therapy, 74(9), 845-850. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/ptj/article-abstract/74/9/845/2729345
- Boston, G. (2014). Massage, foam rolling and stretching: A recipe for muscle recovery. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/massage-foam-rolling-and-stretching-a-recipe-for-muscle-recovery/2014/07/15/a0d7519a-0907-11e4-bbf1-cc51275e7f8f_story.html?utm_term=.53136b804b54
- Herbert, R. (2012). Health check: do you need to stretch before and after exercise? The Conversation. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/health-check-do-you-need-to-stretch-before-and-after-exercise-46197
- Joke, K., Nelson Arnold, G., Carol, E., & Winchester Jason, B. (2007). Chronic static stretching improves exercise performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 39(10), 1825-1831. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Arnold_Nelson/publication/5936445_Chronic_Static_Stretching_Improves_Exercise_Performance/links/0912f50b4b9d12dad4000000.pdf
- Magnusson, S. P., Simonsen, E. B., Aagaard, P., Sørensen, H., & Kjaer, M. (1996). A mechanism for altered flexibility in human skeletal muscle. The Journal of Physiology, 497(1), 291-298. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8951730
- Weerapong, P., Hume, P. A., & Kolt, G. S. (2005). The mechanisms of massage and effects on performance, muscle recovery and injury prevention. Sports medicine, 35(3), 235-256. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00007256-200535030-00004
- Why stretch after massage. (2015). A Healing Touch Massage and Reiki. Retrieved from https://icmassage.net/why-stretch-after-massage