Stretching has been part of my daily life since I was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) about 17 years ago.
Every night, my parents would reserve 30 minutes to do passive stretching, and I saw a physical therapist regularly. We didn’t do it because we wanted to, but because we knew it was the best way to maintain my mobility and ability to walk. It’s had a huge impact on my life, and it can on yours, too.
The main idea behind passive stretching is that it reduces contractures, which are common in neuromuscular diseases such as DMD. A contracture refers to the inability of a muscle to complete a passive full range of motion. Contractures are generally caused by limited muscle movement combined with the replacement of muscle with fibrotic tissue.
When boys transition into wheelchairs and are less active, there is an even greater chance of developing contractures. Stretching is one of the most important ways I’ve been able to maintain my mobility. Night splints, standing, walking, and proper limb positioning also are necessary.
As uncomfortable as it might be, stretching should be done daily because it improves range of motion. The better the range, the less likely you will develop debilitating contractures. Some of it follows common sense. When you don’t move at all, your muscles become tight and compounded with fibrosis, and you will have difficulty walking.
Think of it this way: Our muscles are already significantly weaker than the average person’s, and working against our own tightness is a recipe for disaster.
For DMD and many other neuromuscular diseases, independence is the goal, and I believe stretching helps us achieve that ideal. I can move rather freely because I’m not actively working against much tightness, which means I can still play video games, write, and interact with the world around me.
If you are trying to learn a new instrument or language, you know that consistency is key. Once you practice enough, some parts will come without thinking. That’s also how it is with stretching. It may be uncomfortable or weird at first, but you will get used to it.
Consistency is important because it helps maintain your muscle movement. If you don’t drive a car for a while, it starts to rust, the engine locks, and the battery dies. When you don’t “drive” your muscles through passive stretching, they aren’t going to move very well.
Daily stretching also takes discipline. My parents and I wanted to skip it plenty of times, but I’m glad we didn’t. My muscles are glad, too.
Note: Muscular Dystrophy News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Muscular Dystrophy News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to muscular dystrophy.