While stretching is an important part of any workout, fitness studios known as stretching gyms make it the focus. Stretching instructors help lengthen and loosen muscles, either working one-on-one with clients and physically adding gentle pressure to deepen stretches, or by guiding a class through a series of stretches with props, such as foam rollers and bands.
“There’s no question that stretching benefits people with arthritis,” says Cory Feger, a physical therapist in Louisville, Kentucky. “It improves range of motion, lubricates joints and increases blood flow to muscles.” But are these new gyms and classes safe for people with arthritis? While they can be useful, Feger recommends proceeding with caution. Here’s how:
- ASK INSTRUCTORS ABOUT THEIR QUALIFICATIONS. What’s their background and experience working with people who have arthritis? Many instructors are personal trainers, massage therapists or yoga instructors but may not have experience with arthritis or chronic pain patients.
- ALWAYS WARM UP FIRST. This allows deeper stretches for a longer period of time and decreases the risk of injury. Get moving with light exercise, such as walking. Or do dynamic stretches, such as leg swings and arm circles, which prepare your body for specific movements.
- GO AT YOUR OWN PACE. Don’t try to keep up with everyone else in a class. “You don’t want to overdo it,” says Julie Jasontek, a physical therapist and supervisor of rehabilitation services at Mercy Health in Cincinnati. This may lead to an injury, such as a strained muscle.
- AVOID BOUNCING. To lengthen muscle fibers and increase flexibility, hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds, then release and repeat. These are called static stretches.
- DO STATIC STRETCHES AFTER WORKING OUT. After exercise, muscles are warmed up. Stretching also boosts circulation. As part of a cooldown, it also lowers your heart rate, which may help aid recovery.
- DON’T PUSH TOO HARD. Mild discomfort is normal, but stop if you feel a sharp or intense pain.
- MAKE IT A REGULAR HABIT. To increase flexibility, stretch at least five times a week.