What should I stretch? How should I stretch it? When is the best time to stretch?
These commonly asked questions are often answered with the age old phrase "it depends". As an osteopath I frequently see people who have left it too long and are now in pain because of their poor mobility. However, each person is an individual and so I rarely tell two people the exact same thing. This 3-part Stretching shortcuts Series will help to answer these questions.
 My aim is to provide you with some simple concepts to help you to figure out what you need to stretch. If you then follow the stretching shortcuts you will be get the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to time spent mobilising.

The joint-by-joint approach (Gray Cook) describes how the body's joints stack on top of each other, alternating between being mobile and stable. We can see from the picture that the ankle and hip should be mobile and the knee stable. However, these roles are often reversed due to our sedentary lifestyle. Our hips gets tight from sitting in chairs and our ankle gets tight from having the foot on the pedals and walking around on flat surfaces. To ensure you gets some mobility, the knee starts moving more. This excess movement causes pain and is one of the reasons why 1/3 of all doctors visits in the US are knee related.

Similarly, the lower back should be stable, the mid back mobile and the shoulders mobile. Again, sitting hunched over a desk our pecs get tight, our overhead position becomes poor and we lack the thoracic extension (upper back mobility) to hold a good position in the squat. Our lower back end up moving too much and we suffer lower back pain.

The take home message with this is always look at the joint above and below. If your knee twinges when you squat then how mobile are your hips and ankles? Is one side tighter than the other? A painful left knee is often due to a stiff right hip and left ankle. Similarly, if you get elbow pain, are your shoulders and wrists mobile enough, or if your lower back is sore, is your thoracic spine moving or jammed up and stiff?

Pick the low hanging fruit, if you only have five minutes to stretch, what is most likely to be tight? I would bet on your shoulders and hips. Start here and see how you go. Take note of the difference between left and right and try to balance these out.