What are the Different Types of Physical Therapy Stretches?

Alex Paul

Stretching is an important part of any physical therapy program. Physical therapy stretches vary in location, intensity and method. For example, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching involves contraction as well as lengthening of the muscle to provide a greater gain in flexibility. Other types of physical therapy stretches include active, passive, isometric and static stretching. Some of the most common areas of the body that require stretching include the back, arms and legs.

Physical therapy stretches usually require a dedication to a long-term routine.
Physical therapy stretches usually require a dedication to a long-term routine.

The most common type of physical therapy stretch is the static stretch. As the name suggests, this involves the stretcher taking up a static position, which puts a particular muscle in an elongated situation. This position is then held for a certain number of seconds — usually no less than 20 — until the stretch starts to ease. Often, a static stretch is repeated several times in a row until there are no more flexibility gains. Although static stretches are safe they don’t provide the same benefits as some of the more advanced stretches available.

Ankle stretches may ease pain in the hips.
Ankle stretches may ease pain in the hips.

The PNF physical therapy stretch is thought to be the most effective although it isn’t strictly just a stretch. Unfortunately, PNF stretching can also be dangerous as in some situations it can be difficult to know when a muscle is being overstretched. For this reason it should only be performed under the instruction of a trained physical therapist. PNF stretches involve alternately stretching and then contracting the muscle in a set pattern.

Static stretching is when a person positions her body in a stretch and then holds it for a time.
Static stretching is when a person positions her body in a stretch and then holds it for a time.

Physical therapy stretches often form a routine with the aim of increasing general flexibility in an area of the body. For example, ankle stretches may involve stretching the gastrocnemius and soleus, which are two muscles that make up the calf. Leg stretches may involve stretching both calf muscles as well as the hamstring, quadriceps, IT band and hip flexors.

Aside from the prevention of injury, stretching can also be used to reduce pain. For example, knee pain is commonly caused by tight muscles attaching to the knee joint and hence long term daily stretches are required to sort the problem. Stretching to solve injuries doesn’t always focus on the joint which is causing the pain either. For example, hip pain can sometimes be caused by inflexible muscles around the ankle joint.

Physical therapy stretches usually require a dedication to a long-term routine. It is thought that daily stretching will only achieve permanent results after being followed for at least three months. In many cases the stretcher will have to perform he routine several times a day.

Physical therapy stretches vary in location, intensity and method.
Physical therapy stretches vary in location, intensity and method.

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