Stretching As An Important Tool In Preventing Martial Arts Trauma
By Bruce Everett Miller, PA-C
The issue of health to the martial artist is one that carries a lot
of emotional impact. Whether it is because of illness or because of injuries,
when we are not in full health we cannot, in most cases, enjoy the martial
arts we love best.
With as much at stake as all that, there obviously arise a great number
of different opinions on both how to both care for our health and restore
it once we are sick or disabled. This series of articles will deal with
the subject of injuries. Mostly the understanding of injuries and how
they relate to the martial artist. Along the way you will find that the
more you know about the way your body works, the better you can take care
of it and also how you can use someone else's body against him.
There are many different approaches to preventing injuries. Besides the
issue of safety, the most commonly agreed upon way to prevent injuries
is to stretch before working out. Almost everyone agrees on this point
of fact but unfortunately most people have never really been taught how
to stretch. For those of you who scoff at the idea of having to be taught
how to stretch, then I ask you a simple question. How many times have
you pulled a muscle during a work out when you thought you were already
stretched out? If the answer is never you are either a master at stretching
or lying. Either way you don't need this article.
the rest of us, I want to state that the most common fault in stretching
is not that we don't stretch, or even stretch the major muscles adequately.
What we fail to do is stretch the minor muscles.
The most common non-impact injuries that I see (and/or treat) in martial
arts are bone bruises after sparring and those relatively small but very
painful muscle pulls or tears. (We will talk about bone bruises in the
next article). The main reason for the muscle pulls is that we tend to
stretch out joints in the directions which we are used to moving them
in. Makes sense so far. What we don't realize is that almost every joint
in the body is built to withstand and compensate for some rolling motion
as the joint goes through its full range of motion. The major muscles
which we are used to stretching are those which are responsible for the
major movement of the joint, but the minor muscles are responsible in
a large part for keeping the joint aligned. When we don't stretch these
minor muscles, we run the risk of pulling or tearing them if we move the
joint suddenly in any angle oblique from the normal direction that it
was primarily designed to go. This is also what we do to our opponents
when we force their joints in ways that they were not designed to go.
Therefore, we need to loosen up these small muscles surrounding each
and every joint. The method I recommend is as follows: First, develop
a set pattern in your stretching. For example, start with the feet and
work upward or vise versa. Secondly, not only stretch each and every joint
in its major directions of travel, but also roll each joint in as much
of a circular motion as possible. This loosens up the minor muscles we
talked about above. Thirdly, make sure that any tension you place on muscles
and ligaments during your stretching is done with slowly increasing pressure.
Jerky movements should be avoided, because even small jerks can tear the
small muscle fibrils which make up each muscle. While this won't cause
dramatic pain or limitation of motion, such injuries can add up.
If you work as hard at developing good stretching habits as you do learning
a new form, then soon you will have developed a way to dramatically decrease
injuries. Even more importantly, correct stretching in itself can make
you feel better even after the effects of the rest of the work out have
The next article on preventing martial arts trauma will continue on the
subject of stretching and address the post exercise stretch.
About the Author:
Bruce Everett Miller, PA-C, is a 6th degree black belt in the style of
Quan Li K'an and a teacher of Tai Chi which he combines with his Western
medical training as a Physician's Assistant to provide his own unique
perspective on the martial arts. He is a well known teacher, seminar leader
and author who has produced thirteen books and four videos on various
karate related subjects including freefighting, pressure points, the principles
of kata, Acupuncture, and light force knockouts. For more information
on his books, vidoes and seminars see: www.cloudnet.com/~bemiller/