Calming Client's Stretching Fears
A common concern I hear from clients when I’ve prescribed stretching in their dog’s home program is, “I’m nervous, I don’t want to hurt my dog.” Here are current recommendations for the healthy way to stretch your dog:
Never stretch before exercise (unless as part of a veterinary prescribed rehabilitation plan). Research in humans has shown a potential increase in soft tissue injuries with pre-exercise stretching. The hypothesis is that muscles store potential energy in their elastic fibers. If the muscle is stretched before an event, that potential energy is released, decreasing the energy of the muscle.
Stretch after exercise to normalize the length of the muscle fibers. When the muscles contract repetitively they may shorten. Stretching returns them to their baseline length as they heal from exercise. Stretching after exercise is also a great way to know if your dog has been injured; if they resist a stretch they have previously been amenable to, it may indicate an early injury. A veterinary evaluation, preferably by a Sport Medicine Diplomat if your dog is an athlete, is highly recommended.
Follow these three steps for stretching:
1. Stabilize the joint – gently place your hand over the joint; this signals the muscle to relax
2. Lift the limb into a straight plane* – gently lift the limb parallel to the floor ensuring the muscles are stretched while avoiding other tissues
3. Stretch – take three to five seconds to gently move the limb into a stretched position; a slow stretch keeps the nerves quiet so they don’t reflexively turn the muscle back on. Hold for 30 seconds
Following these three steps with help you and your clients feel comfortable with stretching.