Facilitated stretches entail virtually no risk of injury because there is little or no passive movement involved - the stretcher does the work. You act only as a facilitator for the technique and make no attempt to increase the stretch. This factor addresses the concern of some investigators that poorly trained or inattentive partners could cause injury by being too vigorous in moving the limb to a new range of motion (Beaulieu 1981; Surburg 1981).
Stretching safely is of utmost concern for both the stretcher and the partner. Using proper body mechanics is extremely important during all phases of stretching, but especially during the isometric phase. The stretcher and the partner need to plan carefully and communicate freely with each other. The partner may be expending unnecessary energy (because of poor ergonomics) in applying the resistance, or the stretcher may be working too hard. As the partner you can be injured by carelessly using these techniques, and you can develop overuse syndromes unnecessarily.
- As you work, pay attention to your legs and feet. Use an athletic stance to help you remain balanced and stable, especially as you resist the isometric contraction of the stretcher. Your athletic stance will typically be a modified lunge, with one foot forward and the other back, your pelvis turned toward the line of force. Keep your knees slightly bent, and focus on using your leg muscles. Keep your body weight evenly distributed over both feet, maintain length in your back and neck, and allow your head to sit comfortably over your shoulders (figure 2.6).
- Be aware of keeping your spine lengthened as you work, instead of collapsing into yourself. This lengthening helps prevent undue stress on your vertebrae.
- Keep your low back area flattened to reduce pressure on your lumbar spine. This will help prevent low back pain. Tighten your abdominal muscles to help keep your back from arching too far.
- Avoid unnecessary twisting or bending. Instead, have the stretcher move to accommodate you.
- Use the large muscles of the trunk and extremities to resist the isometric contraction instead of smaller, weaker muscles. For instance, have the stretcher push against your shoulder rather than your arm during a hamstrings stretch.
- Remember that you control the strength of the stretcher’s isometric contraction. Provide resistance only up to the level that is comfortable for you, and then ask the stretcher to hold at that level of effort. It is not necessary for the stretcher to exert maximal effort for the stretch to be effective.
- To avoid losing your balance when you’re acting as the partner, you need to control the session and give the commands so that you’re prepared to resist the isometric contraction. Be sure the stretcher begins slowly during the isometric phase.
- Stop immediately if either you or the stretcher has pain, discuss what is happening to determine the cause, and correct the problem before continuing.
Notice the partner’s athletic stance, a modified forward lunge with the pelvis turned toward the line of force.
When a stretcher is first learning facilitated stretching, it is common for him to work too hard, to lose focus, and to misunderstand the directions for each stretch. To keep the stretcher safe, be sure to proceed slowly, make sure he understands your instructions, and prevent him from overworking. It’s important to be sure that the stretcher is positioned correctly for the stretch, that he is breathing throughout the sequence, and that he is pain free throughout.
Because facilitated stretching is an active form of work, it can be fatiguing for both the stretcher and the partner. Preventing fatigue can reduce the chance of injury.
For the stretcher, it’s important to remember that maximal effort is not necessary. Only a moderate contraction of the target muscle is needed during the isometric phase. This can be especially important for stretchers who don’t participate in a regular exercise program, because they may experience muscle soreness the next day if they work too hard.
For you, the partner, reducing fatigue becomes an issue if you are working with several people throughout the day. Injuries are more likely if you’re fatigued. One of the benefits of facilitated stretching is that the stretcher does most of the work. As the partner, your main task is to assist the stretcher, not do the work for her. The stretcher moves the limb into position; you don’t have to lift it or support it for her except for brief periods during the sequence. Relax whenever possible during the session, and expend only the effort necessary.
If you’re using proper body mechanics, you will usually have a mechanical advantage when resisting the isometric contraction of the stretcher. This leverage allows you to accomplish your work with minimal physical effort.
Read more from Facilitated Stretching, Fourth Edition authored by Robert E. McAtee and Jeffery Charland.