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“Stretching prevents injuries!”
“Stretching speeds up the healing time of an injury!”
“Stretching decreases risk of injury before exercise!”
“Stretching reduces muscle soreness after exercise!”
We all have heard the comments above from various people throughout our lives. Where is the basis for these comments? On the surface, stretching seems like a great warm-up activity; it ’irons out’ and hydrates the tissues, breaks up any adhesions, and prepares the body to move quickly without injury. But does it? No, it doesn’t – the research has shown that there is no benefit in terms of muscle soreness, injury prevention, and on top of this, stretching may reduce strength or sport performance from 5% to 20% (Anderson 2005, Herbert et al. 2011).
There are a lot of cultural assumptions that have been adopted by bodyworkers, rehab specialist and exercisers about stretching, which have no foundation. So the conjectures persist despite the research results.
But what does this mean? Given this information – does that mean you shouldn’t stretch at all? Throughout my career working on pain management, I cannot argue that specific stretching gets patients out of pain. So is stretching bad or good? Since there is no solid research on stretching and the studies that we have contradict the practice of stretching, we are left to hypothesize based on experience and results.
Let’s look at stretching in the aspect that makes sense to me: EVERYBODY STRETCHES AT ALL TIMES. While sitting – the fascial lines of the back are under a stretch, maybe not to the point of conscious awareness, but they are definitely elongating. If one muscle is in shortened position, it’s opposition muscle will be in a stretched position; so when hip flexors, abdominals and pecs are in effortless short position (as in sitting), the glutes and all back muscles from pelvis to the shoulder blades are in stretched position. Weeks, months and years of doing this will start creating muscle imbalances which lead to development of back or shoulder pain. Once the pain is developed, as treatment we stretch the areas that hurt (back) and not the areas that are TIGHT (front).
While deciding on which areas to stretching, observe your posture in which you for most of the time. The areas that shortened in your posture need to be stretched and the areas that are elongated need to be squeezed and shortened. The typical pattern given current lifestyles includes stretching the hip flexors, quads, chest and upper stomach muscles. Once the generalized balance is restored, the stretching areas will dependent on personal preferences and goals.
Herbert RD, de Noronha M, Kamper SJ. Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD004577. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004577.pub3.
Andersen, J. C. (2005). Stretching Before and After Exercise: Effect on Muscle Soreness and Injury Risk. Journal of Athletic Training, 40(3), 218–220.