Stretching and flexibility are important but when is it best to stretch and how much?
If you are an occasional runner or exercise a few times per week the research indicates some fascinating facts about stretching and injury risk.
Here is what the latest research is telling us about stretching:
- Stretching before or after exercising does not confer protection from muscle soreness.
- Stretching before exercising does not seem to confer a practically useful reduction in the risk of injury.
- Data from two studies on army recruits in military training show that muscle stretching before exercising does not produce useful reductions in injury risk.
The basic science literature supports the epidemiologic evidence that stretching before exercise does not reduce the risk of injury.
The literature suggests and our clinical experience tells us:
- A warm up should consist of an activity that raises the pulse such as fast walking, cycling or skipping for 5 to 10 minutes.
- The cool down (~5min) portion may consist of light cycling and or walking followed by light stretching.
- If you are running or walking the most important areas to stretch are the calf, quadriceps, hamstrings, groin (psoas) and buttocks. Stretching the trunk is also important as well.
Studies show that stretching before exercise neither prevents nor causes injury. Some of the most significant contributors to injury risk are:
- Having a history of chronic injury or injury in the past four months
- Higher body mass index (BMI)
- Switching pre-run stretching routines (i.e. runners who normally stretch stop stretching and a visa versa).
If you want to decrease the risk of injury and increase your flexibility it is more beneficial to stretch on a regular basis (everyday), not just before exercise. I recommend stretching when you are warmed up (e.g. mid day, after a hot shower, later in the evening). Yoga can be a great way to increase flexibility as well as core strength.
It is important to get one on one instruction in order to make sure you are performing the stretches correctly to reduce the chances of injury. Our mandate at Back Into Health is to provide exceptional care as well as useful and up to date information regarding health for your benefit.
References Herbert RD, Gabriel M. Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review. BMJ. 2002 Aug 31;325 (7362):468.Fradkin AJ, Gabbe BJ, Cameron PA. Does warming up prevent injury in sport? The evidence from randomized controlled trials? J Sci Med Sport. 2006 Jun;9(3):214-20.
Shrier I. Stretching before exercise does not reduce the risk of local muscle injury: a critical review of the clinical and basic science literature. Clin J Sport Med. 1999 Oct;9(4):221-7
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. “Stretching before a run does not necessarily prevent injury, study finds.” ScienceDaily, 20 Feb. 2011. Web, 4 Jul. 2011.