In these next series of articles I will be looking into stretching and whether it does what we think it does, the latest research into stretching and whether we could be doing anything more effective. The common reasons I hear for wanting to stretch include: “it will prevent injury”, “It will reduce muscle soreness” and “muscles will get longer and more flexible”. Stretching is, likely, something we have been taught since we first started any physical activity in school and it’s a belief that most of us still have today, despite the fact there is very little (if any research) to prove the stretching does ANY of the above statements.
Today I will look at whether stretching can reduce the chances of injuries.
Running, using the gym, attending fitness classes, to name a few, one thing these all have in common is the post workout stretch. Whatever the activity of choice is, the post workout stretches are usually always the same, stretching the quads, followed by the hamstrings, then onto the calf’s and then sometimes add in the glutes. Like the choice of exercises the beliefs to why these stretches are so important is usually the same and one of these is that it will prevent us getting injured.
The reason most people stretch for this reason is likely to down to beliefs. There is little evidence to prove that stretching does prevent injury and just appears to be something that has been continually used over the years even by the highest professionals. What we need to remember is that we cannot predict when someone will get injured, remember we are taking overuse injury rather than trauma (trip, fall etc). So it is too difficult to say that “stretching stop me getting injured” because how do we know we would of been injured if we didn’t stretch?
On to the research. I have quoted the key lines (in my opinion) from the research and have included the full links next to them so you can read it in full should you wish:
“Evidence showed stretching had no effect in reducing injuries” – This study looked at stretching for lower limbs and found to have very limited benefit. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15782063
“No statistically significant difference in injury risk between the pre-run stretching and non stretching groups” This study looked at 2,729 runners. 1366 were put into a stretch group and 1363 to a no stretch group. Over a 3 month period there was no difference in results between stretch and no stretch group in regards to injury prevention - http://www.usatf.org/stretchStudy/StretchStudyReport.pdf
“Stratified exposure analyse proved no beneficial effect for stretching” This research showed that the only training that was NOT effective in preventing injury was stretching. Strength training and proprioception was effective - https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/48/11/871.long
In short the research proves that stretching really has little benefit in preventing injury, and even in some it actually could INCREASE the chance of injuries.
What should I do instead?
Strength training has shown to be more beneficial. This doesn’t mean you have to get to the gym and rack up a load of heavy weights. I cover quite a bit of strength imbalances in my Pilates classes. Even something simple like a resistance/physio band will be adequate to complete effective strength training. Eccentric strength training (I will upload some videos onto my Facebook page) can also be effective and easy too. There is also a good article here, from pain science giving good advice as to what is effective in preventing injury.
Does that mean I shouldn’t stretch now?
Not at all. Do you like stretching? Does it make you feel good? If so, do it. It’s very rare I would recommend to not to do something that feels good. It is also a good way to cool down after exercise and get your heart rate down (it just won’t lengthen your muscles). Are you stretching to prevent injury? Do you stretch to prevent aches & pains? To lengthen muscles? If that’s the only reason your stretching then you can probably ease of it (and you don’t need to feel guilty for not stretching), it’s unlikely to help, and there is much better ways you can do it.
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About the author
I am a Manual Therapist covering a range of different disciplines including massage & Biomechanics. I also run small specialist Pilates classes around Corfe Mullen, Broadstone, Wareham, Wimborne & Poole. Instead of just purely rubbing the pain, I always look to see if I can find a potential cause (or causes of the pain) and then work on treating this.
Pilates Instructor & Therapist, helping you understand why we do what we do!