Importance of Strength Training
As we spend more time on our computers, and smart phones, and sitting for work tasks (which has significantly increased since the start of the COVID pandemic) we are advised to “get up and stretch” throughout the day to prevent injury, prevent back pain, improve posture, etc. Patients coming into my clinic often point out muscles that feel “tight” and comment about how they know they “need to stretch more.” While stretching and flexibility is important, it is not the only thing your body needs – your body also needs strength!
While flexibility during activity is important, recent studies show that stretching without strengthening is not effective at injury prevention. In a 2014 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, it was found that stretching alone had little to no impact on injury prevention, but that strength training consistently had a positive impact of preventing injury. In addition to preventing injuries in athletes, strength training can also be effective in reducing chronic pain, as was found in a 2012 study. In a review of over 1500 physical rehabilitation patients, resistance training was found to decrease chronic pain and improve mobility in a variety of conditions including low back pain, knee osteoarthritis, and chronic tendinopathy. Even plantar fasciitis pain – a condition that is commonly associated with stretching to relieve pain – has better outcomes when patients participate in strength training.
Muscles work together on both sides of a joint to create what should be a balance of mobility and stability throughout our body. However, our daily activities can often create imbalances between those muscles, leading to instabilities when we need support and restricted movement when we need mobility. This can sometimes lead to pain, but the cause of that pain is sometimes a hidden culprit. For example, if you sit at a desk or computer, you will most likely at some point find yourself sitting with a slouched, rounded back posture (we all do it from time to time, especially when we are feeling tired or concentrating hard.) Doing this often overtime will lead to tight pectoral muscles in the chest, causing the muscles in the mid and upper back to be pulled into a stretched posture. The area where we feel pain after sitting in that posture for a prolonged period of time is usually in the back, but it’s not our back that needs to be stretched, it’s actually our chest. Our back muscles need to be strengthened to better support our posture.
So, the question is, when should you stretch, and when should you strengthen? Part of a physical therapist’s job is helping you figure that out. Physical therapists and physical therapist assistants are “movement specialists” – our primary goal is to improve your muscle function. A physical therapist can evaluate your posture, your muscle length, and your muscle strength in all areas of your body. They can determine whether you are lacking stability or mobility, and how one area of the body is impacting another. They can then choose the best exercises and treatments for you to get you moving the right way, prevent future injuries, and improve your quality of life.
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Resistance training in musculoskeletal rehabilitation: a systematic review
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Rathleff, M.S., Mølgaard, C.M., Fredberg, U., Kaalund, S., Andersen, K.B., Jensen, T.T., Aaskov, S. and Olesen, J.L. (2015), HL strength training and plantar fasciitis. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 25: e292-e300. doi:10.1111/sms.12313