Failure to explore the entire range of a joint can cause joint tissues to atrophy, causing a reduction in the range of motion.
- Stretching stimulates blood flow to the muscles and to the joint capsules.
- Stretching increases the production of tissue lubricants.
- Better circulation combined with increased joint lubrication leads to improved healing of the joints.
Joints are more than just areas where the bones meet. Joints are complex structures comprised of bones, cartilage, ligaments, synovial fluid, membranes, tendons and muscles. All of these components contribute to the range of joint mobility.
Ligaments connect bones to bones and do not stretch1. Attempting to stretch ligaments can lead to joint destabilization. Tendons connect muscles to bones and can only stretch approximately 4% of their total length before tearing. Muscles can stretch up to 150% of their resting length prior to tearing and therefore muscle is the main target of proper stretching techniques.
To prevent injury, our body has a built-in Stretch Reflex. When your muscle spindles detect that the muscle is being stretched too fast or too far, they send out a signal that tells your muscles to contract quickly. An example of this is when your foot slips on a patch of ice. Your muscles tense up to prevent you from falling.
The opposite of the Stretch Reflex is called the Inverse Myotatic Reflex. This reflex allows specific muscles to relax when their opposing muscle group contracts so that tendons do not get torn. An example of this is when you are doing bicep curls your triceps automatically relax to prevent injury to their tendons, thereby creating a stretch in the tricep muscles.
Just as cardio workouts and strength training workouts have different effects on your health, different styles of yoga have different effects although all yoga styles are aimed at lengthening muscles.
Power yoga uses Ballistic Stretching to target specific muscle groups through jumping actions and Facilitated Stretching by entering a pose, backing off slightly and then going deeper into the pose. Hatha yoga uses Passive Stretching to hold poses for longer periods of time, which allows the stretch receptors to acclimate so muscles relax and lengthen.
All styles of yoga encourage the practitioner to listen to their body. If a pose causes pain anywhere in your body, then don’t do it!
1Pregnancy creates the release of the hormone Relaxin, which causes ligaments to stretch in preparation for childbirth. Pregnant women should consult with their medical professional prior to starting a new yoga practice.