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Why use stretching in stress management?

Stress is associated with an increase in muscular tension which over time can lead to chronic tension and pain. Some approaches to stress management may be too static for some people (e.g. meditation, progressive muscle relaxation). These people may be more inclined to participate in a more active form of stress management such as stretching.

Stretching if combined with diaphragmatic breathing can act both to remove the residual effects of stress on the body (i.e. muscle tensions), and to reduce the client's level of psychological arousal.


In general longer, slower stretches should be more effective in reducing muscular tension than shorter stretches. Stretches which are held for less than 5 seconds tend to tonify the muscles involved, whereas stretches which are held for 10 seconds or more tend to reduce muscular tension.

Stretches should always be comfortable to the client, and the client should be made aware of this. The "no pain, no gain" attitude is counter-productive to the relief of tension.

Although there are some muscles which are commonly associated with stress, muscular tension varies from client to client. The therapist should identify which muscles are the most in need of stretching, and should develop a stretching programme to suit that individual client.

Practice guidelines

Most clients are able to stretch fairly effectively without much practice, however they should be reminded that the stretching should not be painful, and should be performed for a minimum of 10-30 seconds per stretch.

The benefit they receive from the stretching will be directly related to the frequency of stretching. A client should be therefore directed to stretch a minimum of once per day.


A fairly comprehensive resource on the physiology of stretching.
A collection of videos demonstrating good stretching technique.
  • Stretches for exercises commonly affected by stress
Upper trapezius
Neck extensors


Stretching of soft-tissue is not appropriate when the soft-tissue is injured.