In Prescriptive Stretching, author and naprapathic doctor Kristian Berg suggests that stretching is an important component of daily care for one's body, similar to brushing the teeth. Berg explains that the human body contains over 300 skeletal muscles, all of which can become tight and shortened, causing pain. Muscle tightness can also lead to the development of trigger points, or small knots in the muscles which may refer pain to other areas of the body. Thus Berg focuses his book mainly on the benefits of stretching for pain management and prevention.
Before introducing the stretches themselves, Berg provides some fundamentals. He starts with the "four main principles" of stretching, which include avoiding pain, stretching slowly, stretching the correct muscle, and avoiding impact on other muscles/joints. He also answers some common questions about stretching, such as whether warming up first is necessary (I must admit, I especially appreciated his no-nonsense response to this particular question: "It can be difficult and impractical to warm up every time if you are trying to correct a condition that requires you to stretch 10 times a day"). Berg does include some precautions on when to avoid stretching, and he also describes common stretches which he suggests his readers should avoid.
The method of stretching which Berg uses is called PNF, or proprioceptive muscular facilitation; this is also known as contract-release. PNF involves stretching the muscle to the end point, relaxing, tightening the muscle without moving, relaxing again, and then stretching towards a new end point, repeating several times. In order to help readers more clearly understand which muscles are being stretched, he includes several pages fully diagramming muscles throughout the entire human body as well as provides a basic overview of relevant Latin terminology. In addition, each targeted stretch exercise is fully illustrated with both an initial figure showing the relevant muscle(s) highlighted and several follow-up diagrams serving as step-by-step visual aids.
The stretches themselves aren't organized into particular categories, but Berg basically begins with the neck and makes his way down the body, from the chest/shoulders/upper back to the lower back, glutes, and hips; he continues to all of the major muscles of the legs, finishing with the arms and hands. A full 2-3 page layout is devoted to each of the forty individual stretches, with Berg describing the causes and symptoms of tightness in that area, addressing precautions and common mistakes of stretching the muscle, and offering additional tips on obtaining a good stretch. In the final chapter, Berg presents more specific programs for pain relief. Here he provides general strategies for approaching several common conditions (e.g., stiff neck, headache, upper/lower back pain, shoulder pain, and golfer's/tennis elbow) and recommends specific stretches from the book for dealing with the issues.
I am a daily exerciser who regularly incorporates stretching into my own fitness regimen. Given my familiarity with stretching exercises via other media (books and fitness DVDs), I didn't really expect to learn anything new from Prescriptive Stretching, but I was wrong. Berg's approach is quite different, and only a handful of the stretches included in the book are likely to be familiar to most readers. This is both good and bad. On the plus side, I found that these stretches truly targeted my muscles in unique ways, and my efforts felt more localized to the muscle which I was stretching. On the down side, the stretching setups were sometimes a bit complicated, requiring use of a large sturdy table to facilitate quite a few of the stretches (other necessary props included a chair, a wall, a stick, a rope, and an optional towel). In the end, however, I believe these stretches to be well worth the effort. I would particularly recommend this book to athletes and others who engage in regular physical exercise, but I also think that it would be helpful to anyone with muscle pain/discomfort issues.
© 2011 Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students.