Stretching and Age: An FAQ
It won’t surprise you to learn that StretchZone believes in the power of practitioner-assisted stretching. We’ve seen the ways that lower, middle, and upper back stretches can improve range of motion and decrease discomfort.
That said, some people wonder if they’re too old, or too young, to stretch. In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about stretching and age. We hope this helps you understand how important range of motion is throughout your life.
Do Kids Need to Stretch?
When we’re young, our growth plates are open. This means that the ends of many of our bones are covered in cartilage, which isn’t quite as strong as adult bone.
Damage to growth plates can lead to deformities throughout the rest of your life, so we want to be extremely careful to avoid any injury in this area.
For that reason, practitioner-assisted stretching is not recommended for kids. Luckily, the human body is already flexible at that age, and the benefits of practitioner-assisted stretching become more important after puberty.
Children with cerebral palsy are the one notable exception. Passive stretching is good for them because it helps relieve discomfort. If you feel your child could benefit from passive stretching, you should speak with a physical therapist.
Should Kids Stretch Before They Engage in Sports?
At StretchZone, we’re strong believers in the benefits of practitioner-assisted stretching, as opposed to active stretching. That said, the power of this form of stretching is the same reason why it’s not ideal for children, who are in the process of growing.
Therefore, this is one of the few times when we’ll recommend active stretching.
At this age, you can help your child develop habits and understand that flexibility is an important part of physical activity. You can also help them learn about some of the basics of stretching (e.g., it’s better to stretch warm muscles than cold ones).
While all of this is beneficial, it’s a good idea to watch your child while they first begin stretching. You want to make sure they don’t hurt themselves by pushing too hard or not positioning themselves correctly. It’s easier to form these behaviors and understandings now than it would be later in life.
Stretching After Your Child Was Injured
Stretching helps children restore their range of motion if they were injured. That said, they may not be able to stretch right away, depending on how they were injured. For instance, stretching a strained muscle will only strain it further.
In these cases, the child needs to wait for the inflammation to die down before they begin stretching.
To determine the best treatment, as well as the timeline for recovery, you should speak with a medical professional, most likely a physical therapist. They will let you know how the physical activities your child engages in affect the way their muscle grows.
How to Teach Your Child to Stretch
When teaching your child to stretch, you want to make sure you’re establishing good habits, as opposed to bad ones. Therefore, there are a few important stretching best practices to keep in mind.
Don’t Stretch Cold Muscles
Often, we think of stretching as something we should do immediately before working out, but this isn’t correct. It’s better to stretch muscles that are already warm.
Instead of having your child stretch before physical activity, then, have them engage in a brief warm-up beforehand. This helps prepare the muscles for the beneficial effects of stretching.
Create a Regular Stretching Plan
Without a plan, it’s all too easy to forget about stretching. Depending on the amount of physical activity your child is currently engaged in, it may be enough for them to simply set aside time for stretching every time they’re working out.
However, if they’re living a more sedentary lifestyle, it may be a better idea to have them set aside time to stretch at least three times a week. Once they get used to setting that time aside, it can be easier to get them to engage in other forms of physical activity.
Vary Your Stretches
Performing the same stretches every time isn’t nearly as beneficial as varying them. The benefits of variation are twofold:
- It prevents you from overstretching certain areas.
- It ensures that every part of your body is properly stretched.
You’re simply not getting the full benefit of stretching if you’re focusing on the same muscles every time.
Make Stretching Fun
Stretching shouldn’t feel like a chore. It’s a great way for kids to learn about their bodies and push themselves to achieve a range of motion. Help them understand the importance behind stretching and encourage them to take care of their bodies.
Why Has My Child Lost Flexibility?
While children are typically flexible, they may go through periods where they’re feeling stiff. This is a normal side effect of growth spurts. The speed of bone growth means that muscles and tendons have to stretch more than usual.
When the rest of your body catches up to the bones, the stiffness should fade. There’s no cause to worry about short periods of stiffness, though if it’s chronic, you’ll want to take them to a medical professional.
Why Are Toddlers So Flexible?
When a baby is born, its body emphasizes flexibility over rigidity. This assists the birthing process, as well as accommodating for any growth spurts. As they get older, their bones will begin fusing together.
When Can I Start Passive Stretching?
While the human brain doesn’t fully develop until the age of 25, the human body stops a little sooner. By the age of 15, most girls will be fully grown. Most boys are fully grown by the time they’re 18.
At this point, the growth plates fuse. This means that they’re finished and unable to grow more.
Can Stretching Help You Grow Taller?
Other than growth spurts, one of the most common reasons that teenagers are interested in stretching is because they want to grow taller. While we understand how difficult it is to look in the mirror and not be as tall as you want to be, stretching won’t change your height.
How tall you are is governed by your genetics, as well as how healthy you are during your childhood and adolescence. Making sure you get enough nutrients is key, as is avoiding activities that can stunt growth, like smoking.
This myth probably arose from the fact that your height can vary to a very small degree over the course of the day. This is because of the way your spine compresses. Typically, it shrinks ¾ of an inch each day as the spine releases fluids.
After stretching, you can decompress the spine. This minimal height difference won’t last once you go back to sleep.
Should I Try Passive Stretching Even If I Don’t Feel Discomfort?
Some people wait to try practitioner-assisted stretching until they’re already feeling discomfort. While this activity can help soothe your muscles, it’s even better to work on your flexibility while you still feel your full range of motion. Maintaining that range is easier than building it up again.
At What Age Does Flexibility Peak?
While everybody is different, 25 is typically the peak age for flexibility. From there, it stays the same for most of your 30s. After, it begins to decline if not properly maintained.
While the decline may seem gentle at first, it compounds over time. This means you could lose 25% of your peak flexibility by the time you’re 65. Practitioner-assisted stretching is designed to counteract that.
Why Is Stretching So Important in Your 30s?
While we recommend stretching before this point, people often start feeling the need to stretch more in their thirties. This is because of an important change occurring in our body: the loss of elastin and collagen, both of which are important for your body’s elasticity.
One of the goals of stretching is to ensure that the muscles in your body are an appropriate length, when compared to bone. If you engage in physical activity without stretching, your muscle will become too short.
The shortness of the muscle is actually what you’re working out for, as it becomes denser. That said, without stretching, the thick muscle isn’t long enough to properly accommodate the movement of your bones.
On the other hand, people who don’t engage in enough physical activity often end up with lopsided muscles: while some muscles might become too short, other muscles will become too long.
The solution to this is a combination of exercising and stretching. The former ensures that you’re maintaining or building muscle mass, while the latter keeps the muscles from growing incorrectly and not matching the length of your bones.
Sarcopenia and Stretching
An estimated 10% of adults over the age of 50 suffer with sarcopenia, but the process can start as early as 30. Essentially, your body begins losing muscle mass, which can make tasks that once seemed easy more difficult to perform.
Is Sarcopenia Reversible?
Thankfully, sarcopenia can be reduced. While it’s easier to maintain muscle mass than it is to build it, you can put the work in to improve your muscle mass. When combined, exercise and stretching can help slow the progression of sarcopenia, or even reverse its effects.
What Age Is Too Late to Get Flexible?
Luckily, there’s no age where you’re suddenly too old to get flexible. While natural flexibility declines over time, this is distinct from your ability to stretch.
It’s preferable to start stretching younger, as it’s easier to maintain flexibility than it is to build it up. That said, if you’re struggling to improve your range of motion, a practitioner can help.
Whereas active stretching requires you to use your own muscle to achieve and maintain a stretch, practitioner-assisted stretching is passive. This means you can relax. By not using your muscles during the stretch, you’re increasing your comfort and making it easier to improve your range of motion over time.
Because you can push farther before the stretch feels uncomfortable, you’ll be improving more during each stretch session. You can also trust that your practitioner knows how far you can safely stretch. If you try doing it by yourself, you run the risk of overstretching.
Do People Lose Flexibility at Different Rates?
There are many different factors that can affect how quickly you lose flexibility:
- Physical activity
Depending on how these factors interact, you may find yourself losing flexibility at a higher or lower rate than is typical. Even though there are some elements out of your control, like genetics, you can still control how often you go to a stretch studio.
Do I Need to Change My Stretching Routine as I Get Older?
Once you’re old enough to take advantage of passive stretching, there aren’t any limits on the kinds of stretches you can do.
Variations in your stretching regimen are recommended if you suffer any injuries and need to therefore work on the area more carefully.
Other than that, the changes should be focused on ensuring that you don’t engage in the same stretches every day. Flexibility isn’t determined across your entire body. Instead, each joint is going to have its own level of flexibility.
This means that every part of the body needs to be stretched separately if you want to maintain a full range of motion. Changing stretch routines from day to day ensures this. As well, it helps avoid overstretching.
One of the most important rules is that you shouldn’t perform any stretches if they hurt. It’s good to feel them, but stretching should relieve discomfort, not cause or exacerbate it.
What If I’m Concerned by a Specific Area?
If there’s a specific area that you’re concerned about, let your stretch practitioner know. They’re putting together a plan custom-tailored to your needs, so it’s useful for them to understand what you’re looking for from your stretching program.
Looking for Upper Back Stretches?
StretchZone will take care of you. For years, we’ve been helping people improve their range of motion through the power of practitioner-assisted stretching. Our state-of-the-art stretch studios are staffed with some of the best practitioners in the field.
Whether you have any questions about our stretch studios or you’re ready to book your free 30-minute stretch session, please don’t hesitate to contact us today. We’re always happy to help people see the benefits that stretching can add to their life.