These stretches can be used to relieve pain and tension, or to increase flexibility. They are very gentle and safe for people of all ages and abilities. They encourage your body to relax by first lengthening the muscle to the end of its comfortable range, then contracting it gently, and finally relaxing, stretching the muscle. Repeating the exercise increases the degree of relaxation and hence reduces pain and stiffness. 'Regular' stretching attempts to push the muscle to extend beyond where it's currently comfortable. This can trigger the inbuilt safety mechanisms which prevent your muscles from being damaged due to over-stretching; in other words, instead of relaxing and extending the muscle contracts to its maximum. This can cause pain and/or cramp. The stretches shown here are known as PNF stretches and work with your muscles to encourage lengthening. This series of stretches cover the most usual areas of pain and tension, and can be safely used as often as you feel necessary. The basic principles are: - Always stretch both sides, even if only one side is painful - Only repeat 3 times in each set of stretches - Use only 10% of your strength, in other words don't try very hard. You should be able to breathe normally throughout, and avoid any pain - Ensure you breathe normally during the stretches to ensure a suitable supply of oxygen to the working muscles.
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