Book Review: The Stark Reality of Stretching,
Dr Steven D.Stark

Published in the MEDANZ newsletter, February 2001

A clear, no nonsense look at stretching. This book is in four parts. The first part looks at how muscles work and what it means to stretch them. The second part looks at how to stretch in general; proper warm-ups, types of stretches, how to stretch and how not to stretch. The third section gives specific examples of how to stretch the lower body (calf, groin, quads, hamstrings, posterior hip muscles, hip flexors). The last section is a summary of the third.

The book has clear diagrams showing positioning and where the stretch should be felt. For each stretch Dr Stark repeats his '5 Golden Rules of Stretching' (isolate the muscles group, find zero tension, find first awareness, less is best, allow loss of tension) and how it applies to the particular example.

Just as important each muscle group has a section on mistakes that are made and why you should not do it that way. For example, if you hold the foot instead of the ankle on a quad stretch you load the extensor tendons of the toes which are attached to the lateral ligament structures of the knee which can cause strain and low-level injury - only this takes two pages in the book with diagrams.

The theory is vital - especially to teachers. For instance, tendons do not stretch. This means if you overstretch a muscle you can cause tearing of the muscles to tendon or tendon to bone. Similarly with ligaments. These do stretch. But push them too far and they over stretch meaning they can no longer stabilize the joint. This can become permanent through repetitive over stretching.

Also very important are the warnings on dangerous (and inept) stretching - such as the standing hamstring stretch, which not only cannot stretch the hamstring but can cause loading of the ligaments of the lower spine. As someone who has been there, I've decided to quote the end in full:

"This will cause tearing, weakening, and lengthening of the posterior longitudinal ligament that stabilizes the spinal vertebrae and spinal disk. As this ligament weakens over a period of years, the instability can lead to hypermobility of the spine and secondary damage such as a herniated disk.

"The damage to these ligament structures is insidious, cumulative, and permanent. The resulting spine and sciatic nerve problems may not be symptomatic until years after the initial damage began."

If you want to learn more - and there's a lot there - I strongly recommend you buy a copy. If you don't believe me check out the MEDANZ library copy. Find out why jogging causes four times as much stress on the body as walking or why tight calves can lead to bunions. Then I'm sure you will want your own copy.

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