Is Assisted Stretch Something You Should Add to Your Practice?

Learn about assisted stretch and if this technique could benefit your clients as part of your massage therapy practice.

With remote work becoming more common and people spending more time indoors, maintaining wellness routines that include physical activity and stretching are as important as ever. Learn about assisted stretch and if this technique could benefit your clients as part of your massage therapy practice.

What is Assisted Stretching?

Assisted stretching, as its name suggests, is an appointment between a client and a trained stretch professional where a client is guided through the stretching process. “Assisted stretch is when a trained professional, such as a Stretch Service Provider, assists with the performance of specific stretch movements,” says Stacy Stevens, Sr. Manager, Employee Brand & Systems, Massage Envy Franchising. “They guide you throughout the stretch. This can include coaching you through breathing, making sure your body is in the correct position to receive an effective stretch, and helping you find the right level of intensity.”

Assisted stretch can be a standalone appointment, independent from a massage session, but the service can also be included as part of a massage appointment. Standalone appointments typically last between 20, 40, and 60 minutes, depending on the type of stretches provided.

For some massage therapy practices, assisted stretching is an added service. Other companies, like Stretch U, however, build their entire business model around assisted stretch. Many individuals are looking at assisted stretch as a means of offsetting the effects of sitting for the majority of their day. “Our clients range from young athletes to elderly retirees,” says Cobi Hopkins, Director of Training and Education at Stretch U. “Although, the most common demographic is probably working adults who sit at a desk all day.”

“One surprising thing about stretch is that there isn’t just one type of client who the service is appealing to,” Stevens says, agreeing with Hopkins about assisted stretching’s wide client base “Massage Envy franchised locations see clients ranging from young student athletes to clients who have physically demanding jobs, such as nurses, dental hygienists, and construction workers.”

Different Kinds of Stretches and Their Benefits

Static stretch is one of the most common types of stretch and involves a stretch provider guiding a client through a stretch and then holding for at least 30 seconds. For clients who need some resistance, massage therapists might use proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). Here, a client is moved into a stretch by a provider until tension is felt. Then, the client contracts the muscle while the therapist provides resistance, holding for five to six seconds before relaxing. This stretch and resist cycle may be repeated three to five times.

Some of the biggest benefits of stretching include increased flexibility, improved posture, pain relief, injury prevention, enhanced sports performance, and better sleep. Additionally, the breathing techniques typically practiced during a stretch appointment can help clients relax throughout the day.

Training for Stretch Service Providers

Currently, there are not any official certifications or licenses for stretch providers, but that doesn’t mean the companies themselves don’t have requirements. “All of our employees need to have a background in exercise science or massage therapy to be considered,” Hopkins says. From this point, candidates are sent through a Stretch U internship program where they are required to complete 50 practice stretches. They then must do a final test with the Studio Manager. “The training is heavily focused on technique, modifying stretches for different populations, anatomy, and frequently asked questions,” according to Hopkins.

At Massage Envy, Stretch Service Providers are required to complete a combination of online and hands-on training before working with clients. Upon completion of the training, the Stretch Service Provider can offer their services to clients while also earning up to 11.5 CE credits approved through NCBTMB.

What to Expect

Before heading to any stretch appointment, clients should know what to expect. Wearing stretchable, comfortable clothing is a must. Clothing that is too tight or inflexible can prevent clients from getting maximum benefits out of a session.

As with a typical massage therapy session, it is important to conduct a proper intake to pinpoint any specific problem areas to address. Massage Envy’s stretch appointments include a detailed consultation before and after a session in order to maximize benefits for their clients. “At Massage Envy franchised locations, a Stretch Service Provider reviews information through an intake form to understand a client’s health history and ask questions related to the upcoming service,” Stevens says. “This is to understand if you are a good candidate to receive the stretch or if there are any areas that should not be stretched or avoided. Once the Stretch Service Provider has all your information, then they will tailor the session to you.”

Breathing deeply during the actual stretch is also important. “Remember to breathe through the stretches and allow your body to relax into the position the same way you would during yoga,” Hopkins says. This practice can help to both prevent injuries and create a more calming environment.

Assisted Stretching Risks

Communication between a client and provider during a session is key to preventing injury. A client will feel some form of tension during the stretch, but not pain. It’s important to encourage clients to communicate immediately if they feel pain at any point so adjustments can be made, as over-stretching can lead to muscle, tendon, ligament, and joint damage.

However, because assisted stretching is done with an experienced provider the risk of injury is lower as long as proper communication is maintained. As always, it should be noted, massage therapists should check with their state regulatory-board to ensure there are no limitations or restrictions on the types of stretch a massage therapist can provide. “Once the Stretch Service Provider has all your information, then they will tailor the session to you,” Stevens says. “While everyone’s comfort level should be considered on a case-by-case basis, stretching is something that most people can benefit from.”