To Stretch Or Not To Stretch?
by Jake Reynolds, PT, DPT
Spine & Sports Clinic of Motion Stability
I frequently have clients ask about stretching and tend find a lot of confusion about proper technique and dosage. This confusion can lend itself to injury as opposed to injury prevention and performance enhancement (the intent of stretching). If we are stretching incorrectly you may actually prime your muscle for injury. For the sake of clarity, lets get a one thing out of the way: yes—stretching is important. In fact the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) outlines the following guidelines for flexibility training in terms of risk factor reduction for the development of injuries and preventable diseases:
At least two or three days of stretching each week to improve range of motion.
Stretches held for 10-30 seconds to the point of tightness or slight discomfort.
Repeat each stretch two to four times, accumulating 60 seconds per stretch.
Static, dynamic, ballistic and PNF stretches are all effective
Flexibility exercise is most effective when the muscle is warm. Try light aerobic activity or a hot bath to warm the muscles before stretching
Now that we have established the importance of stretching, lets talks about the pitfalls I see many people fall into when stretching:
Stretching a “cold” muscle → muscles should be warm and relaxed to benefit from stretching, otherwise they may try to “fight” you1
Stretching statically prior to exercise → this may actually prime your muscle for injury by making the muscle now less responsive
Aggressive ballistic stretching →bouncing during stretching can actually cause trauma to the junction between muscle and tendon, setting up injury2
Over stretching → going beyond natural, light tissue tension, again can cause trauma to the tissues2
Nerve stretching → stretching in a way that causes more tension on the nervous system as opposed to targeted muscle stretching
To avoid some of these pitfalls, not only is it prudent to review your own musculoskeletal anatomy via textbook or even a Google image search of the muscle you want to stretch, but it may behoove you to make an appointment with a physical therapist. A physical therapist will work along side you to come up with a targeted and comprehensive injury prevention and performance enhancement stretching routine.
Garber CE, Blissmer B, Deschenes MR, Franklin BA, Lamonte MJ, Lee IM, Nieman DC, Swain DP. Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults: Guidance for Prescribing Exercise. July 2011 – Volume 43 – Issue 7 – pp 1334-1359 doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e318213fefb
Thacker, Stephen B., et al. “The impact of stretching on sports injury risk: a systematic review of the literature.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 36.3 (2004): 371-378.