Working with Shortened Muscles with Safety & Progression

May 09, 2023 3 min read

Working with shortened Muscles

So how should you address the shortened muscle groups with safety and progression?  

Firstly it is important that we understand how a muscle will react to stretching and also what reactions take place within the muscle to allow lengthening to occur. 

There are two main receptors within the muscle and the tendon that will control the change in length of any muscle. There primary function is to communicate with the CNS to prevent damage to muscle or connective tissue. Firstly there are the muscle spindles; these register the muscle length and the rate at which a muscle changes length. If a rapid change in length is detected as in a ballistic action, the muscle spindles will trigger a stretch reflex.

This will initiate a shortening/contracting of the muscle to prevent muscle damage. This is called the myotatic stretch reflex

The second group of receptors is the Golgi Tendon Organs (GTO’s) The GTO’s can be found in the tendon and in the musculotendinous junction. Whereas the muscle spindles relay information about muscular length, GTO’s relay information relating to muscular force. If the GTO’s sense an excessive force on the tendon that is likely to cause damage either through contraction or lengthening of the muscle, they will communicate to the CNS. This will then set off the bodies safety mechanisms and the muscle will relax (lengthen) and reduce the stress on the tendons thus removing the potential for damage. This is called the inverse stretch reflex.

Knowing this we are now able to stretch our clients with maximum safety and effectiveness but how should we do it? Firstly we should consider the age of the client, it is accepted that the older we get the less flexible we become so care should be taken when introducing older clients to a stretching programme. Older clients should begin with a static stretching programme that does not require any opposite force. Secondly we must be sure that any restricted movement is not due to an underlying medical condition or past trauma. 

Static Stretching

Static stretching has been widely accepted as the safest form of stretching, the muscle to be stretched (target muscle) is lengthened slowly; moving slowly prevents the firing of the stretch reflex. Once a stretch is felt in the belly of the muscle it is held in that position for 15-30 seconds. As the feeling of stretch diminishes the client then moves gently into a deeper stretch and holds again. Be sure to watch out for holding of the breath and any ballistic movements.

CR Stretching (Contract Relax)

This form of stretching is highly effective when you are dealing with marked limitations in range of motion. CR stretching has its origins in PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) and relies on the application of an opposite force in the form of an isometric contraction. If the applied force is sufficient it will trigger the GTO’s to cause an inverse stretch reflex.

Begin with a static stretch such as a standing quad stretch.

  • Pull the ankle towards the buttocks until a stretch is felt keeping the knees together and the hips forward and hold.
  • Now apply an opposite force by trying to push the ankle away from the buttocks while holding the ankle in position and not allowing any movement.
  • The force should be constant and as maximal as possible but still allowing for correct posture and form.
  • Hold the isometric contraction for around ten seconds and then relax completely, now apply the quad stretch again and you will notice an increased range of motion of the quads allowing the ankle to be pulled closer to the buttocks.

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