You don’t need us to tell you that you work in a high-stress profession. You know that, and your body does, too. So treat yourself to a tried-and-true, easy method of self-care and give stretching your body a shot. It sounds like a simple solution, but a little stretch can go a long way (for free)!
Stretching exercises are one of the best ways to reduce your stress. Not only do these exercises help relax tight muscles, but they also release endorphins, improve circulation, boost energy levels, enhance concentration, and promote better posture. Even better, simple stretches require no equipment or much space so you can perform them wherever you are, including your temporary home or the medical facility you’re working in. Here’s everything you need to know about the power of stretching, as well as the best stretching exercises for busy healthcare professionals like yourself.
Best Stretching Exercises Every Healthcare Traveler Needs to Know
Types of stretching exercises
Static stretching is a fancy way of referring to stretches that are performed without movement. With these types of stretching exercises, you get into the position and hold the stretch for a specific amount of time, usually 10 to 30 seconds. Think of things like side bends and ear-to-shoulder stretches.
The key to static stretching is making sure that you’re holding the stretch without bouncing and instead, focusing on deep breathing and relaxing the targeted muscles. With regular practice, this type of stretching can help reduce stiffness and soreness in muscles, plus increase mobility. The best part about static stretches is they're typically a quick and easy solution to decreasing stress and tension throughout a busy day.
Another common type of stretching exercise is dynamic stretching. These are controlled movements where the joints and muscles go through a full range of motion at a slow pace without jerking. Examples include hip circles, spinal rotations, and lunges with a twist.
Dynamic stretches are often done before a workout to improve coordination between muscle groups and reduce the risk of injury during physical activity. But they’re also great for relieving tension built up from working long hours on assignments or sitting for extended periods of time.
The last type of stretching is ballistic stretches, which are usually reserved for OG exercisers. Ballistic stretches aren’t recommended for beginners because they involve the use of momentum and jolting motions to deepen the stretch, which can result in accidental injury. One classic ballistic stretch is a simple toe touch with little bounces to extend your reach.
Stretching safety tips
Stretching exercises are an important part of overall health and wellness, especially for those who spend a lot of time on their feet or sit for long periods. In addition to keeping your muscles and joints flexible, strong, and healthy, stretching regularly activates your parasympathetic nervous system to help reduce feelings of stress. However, it’s important to stretch safely so you don’t accidentally hurt yourself. Here are some stretching safety tips to help you take care of your body.
- Warm up your muscles before stretching by taking a quick lap around your hospital unit
- Don’t overdo it and only stretch to the point of mild tension, never pain. If a stretch hurts, stop doing it ASAP
- Practice deep breathing and try not to hold your breath while holding a stretch
- Stretch different muscle groups at different times to avoid causing joint damage from overstretching
- Talk to your doctor before establishing a stretching routine if you have an acute, chronic, or existing injury
Best stretching exercises for healthcare travelers
Your body can take a beating when you’re constantly on the go. Plus, long hours in cramped spaces, coupled with constantly changing sleeping arrangements, can leave your back feeling tight and sore. Luckily, there are simple back stretches that you can do to keep your muscles limber and help prevent back pain and strain. Not only will these stretches reduce muscle tension in your back, but they’ll also provide more energy for those long days at work.
Standing back extension
- Start standing with your hands on your lower back
- Slowly arch backward as far as you can go without discomfort
- Hold for three-to-five seconds
- Return to the starting standing position
- Repeat five times
Seated torso twists
- Sit tall and upright in a chair with your feet firmly planted on the floor
- Twist your body to one side, trying to touch the back of your chair with your hand
- Hold for four counts
- Smoothly return to the center, facing forward
- Repeat on the other side
Hula hoop stretch
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than your shoulders and put your hands on your hips
- Push your hips back, butt out, and start rotating your hips in a clockwise motion
- Push your hips forward and begin the clockwise rotation
- Repeat for five circles in a clockwise motion
- Reverse and rotate your hips counter-clockwise for five circles
Soreness in your neck can build up no matter if you’re working on your feet or sitting down. Stretches that target your neck can help alleviate discomfort, improve flexibility, and promote overall well-being. Take a few minutes out of your busy day to focus on these neck stretches to help relieve pain and stiffness — you can thank us later.
- Start by facing forward while either standing or sitting with your feet flat on the floor
- Tilt your head to one side, bringing your ear toward your shoulder. Be sure to keep your shoulders still, not shrugging your shoulder up to your ear
- Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds
- Relax and slowly return to your starting position
- Tilt your head to the other side and repeat the stretch
Seated levator scapulae stretch
- Begin in a comfortable seated position with your feet flat on the floor
- Place your right hand behind your head
- Turn your head to the right at a 45-degree angle and gently pull your head down toward your right armpit
- Hold for 30 seconds
- Repeat on the left side
- Stand or sit comfortably with your head facing forward and feet flat on the floor
- Gently and slowly roll your head to one side, up, to the other side, and down
- Return your head to the starting position
- Repeat for five full neck rotations
Do you ever feel a twinge in your shoulder muscles? Shoulder stretching exercises are a great way to relieve a build-up of stress in your body and improve your posture, which can be beneficial whether you’re working a 12-hour shift or traveling a long distance. Give these stretches a try the next time you notice tension in your shoulders.
- Stand tall with your gaze forward and arms relaxed at your sides
- Shrug your shoulders up toward your ears without hunching your back, protruding your neck, or collapsing your shoulders forward
- In that shrugging position, squeeze your shoulder blades together to pull your shoulders back and down
- Round your upper back to push your shoulders forward and up
- Shrug up to start another rotation
- Repeat about 15 times
Cross-body shoulder stretch
- Start by standing or sitting upright
- Grab one arm above your elbow and pull it across your body and close to your chest
- Be sure to keep your elbow below your shoulder height
- Hold for 30 seconds
- Repeat on the other side
Overhead triceps and shoulder stretch
- Stand or sit up tall with your head facing forward and your feet flat on the floor
- Bring one arm overhead and drop your forearm behind you, resting it between your shoulder blades
- Use your other hand to grab the upper part of your bent arm and gently pull, keeping your bicep close to your ear
- Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side
Offering support and stability throughout the day, the leg muscles are an important part of the body and sometimes they need a little TLC. Pamper yourself with some stretching exercises that target the muscles in your legs, like your hamstrings, glutes, and calves. These are some of our favorite leg stretches!
Standing quad stretch
- Begin standing, then shift your weight to the right leg
- Bend your left knee and bring your heel toward your backside
- Reach for your left ankle and stand up straight, keeping your abs tight
- Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other leg
Standing calf raises
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your toes facing forward
- Gently rise as high as you can on the balls of your feet
- Pause, then slowly lower your heels back to the ground
- Repeat as desired
Seated ankle circles
- Sit upright in a chair and start by either extending one leg away from your body or by crossing one leg over the opposite knee, whatever’s most comfortable for you
- Move the ankle of the extended or bent leg in a circle going clockwise
- Change the direction and rotate the ankle counterclockwise
- Repeat on the other ankle
Your wrists and hands make a direct impact on the lives of others, whether you’re administering medications to patients, operating medical technology, or something in between. Reward them for their hard work with arm stretches! Stretching exercises that target specific muscles in your arm can help you improve your range of motion and strength. Incorporate these quick and easy stretches into your routine and reap the benefits.
Standing bicep stretch
- Start by standing with your arms relaxed at your sides
- Interlace your hands behind your back at the base of your spine
- Straighten your arms as much as feels comfortable, turn your palms facedown, and raise your arms
- Hold the position for 30 seconds
- Repeat, as desired
Wrist flexion and extension stretch
- Sit or stand comfortably and extend one arm out in front of you with your palm facing up
- With your other hand, gently bend your wrist farther
- Hold for 15 seconds
- Rotate the same arm so your palm is facing down
- Gently use your other hand to deepen the stretch
- Hold for 15 seconds
- Repeat on the other arm
- Seated or standing, interlace your fingers in front of you
- Tuck your elbows into your sides and rotate your interlaced hands in a figure eight motion
- Do this for as long as it feels good
Muscles get tense — it happens to the best of us. That’s why it’s important to make stretching your body a priority. Start experimenting with these stretches to see which ones make you feel best, and then create a daily stretching routine. By taking a few moments each day to focus on relaxation and release tightness, you can feel like your best self.