Stretching is the unsung hero of exercise that keeps your muscles flexible, free from injury and feeling young. When combined with regular massage, these two activities support your body post-workout to release accumulated lactic acid that may cause muscle soreness and release any tension that is being held in your muscles.
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Injury and Pain Prevention
Stretching not only helps to prevent injury, but it also can help with pain management, according to the American Council on Exercise. Stretching prevents injury by increasing your muscle range of motion while the muscles are already warmed up through exercise. Once the muscles are warm they are less likely to tear or cause further injury. Both stretching and regular massage can help to reduce the severity of post-workout pain and delayed onset muscle soreness, DOMS, that may show up 24 to 48 hours after an intense workout.
Stretching -- and massage to a lesser extent -- can help to increase flexibility in your muscles, fascia, connective tissue and joints. Maintaining supple and flexible muscles is important throughout life, but especially as your body ages. The muscle and joints have a tendency to grow stiff and inflexible with age, so implementing a regular stretching or yoga routine can really help to alleviate muscle stiffness. Some types of massage -- for example, foam rollers or Thai massage -- actively manipulate the muscles to promote greater flexibility and suppleness.
If you're looking for a professional massage to help alleviate muscle soreness or promote flexibility post-workout, search for a sports massage, Swedish, Thai or foam roller therapist to work with. Some styles of massage, such as Shiatsu or acupressure might be too gentle to see benefits on the muscular level since they work more with energy meridians. You won't always need to see a professional masseuse to reap the benefits of a post-workout massage though. From the comfort of home or the gym you can give yourself a self-massage by kneading and rubbing your major muscle groups -- either with massage oil or over your clothes.
When it comes to post-workout stretching, there are a few golden rules that you should follow in order to stay safe. Always stretch your muscles after you have warmed up your body first and perform each stretch gently, without bouncing or pulling. Breathe deeply throughout and pay attention to the sensations you feel in your body as you stretch. You might feel a burning, stretching sensation in your muscles but you shouldn't feel pain, especially on or around your joints.