Stretching: A form of physical exercise in which a specific muscle or tendon (or muscle group) is deliberately flexed or stretched in order to improve the muscle’s elasticity. The result is a feeling of increased muscle control, flexibility, and range of motion. Stretching is also used therapeutically to alleviate cramping.
Stretching: the most divisive, emotive and inconclusive part of the Exercise Universe.
Because of the second definition, by yours truly, I have put off writing a blog on stretching for as long as I have been writing a blog. But here goes;
In 2015, a paper in Research in Sports Medicine called “Impact of stretching on the performance and injury risk of long-distance runners” came to the conclusion that;
“….the literature suggests that stretching poses no significant advantage to endurance runners. Acute stretching can reduce running economy and performance for up to an hour by diminishing the musculotendinous stiffness and elastic energy potential. Chronic stretching additionally appears to have no advantageous effects. In regards to DOMS, it has been reported consistently in the literature that stretching cannot reduce its longevity or intensity. In relation to injury risk, stretching shows little significance for endurance runners to chronic injury. Endurance athletes are at high risk of overuse injuries such as illiotibial band syndrome, stress fractures and plantar fasciitis,and the literature suggests that stretching cannot reduce the prevalence of these injuries. It appears stretching may hold significance for certain exercise disciplines;
however, it can be concluded that it holds no advantage for endurance runners and is not the solution to improving performance or reducing injury prevalence”
Of course this very much focusses on Running, but is pretty damning stuff. It found no benefit to stretching, and actually some negative effects of stretching. Everyone stop stretching!
A study in 2016 called “Acute bouts of upper and lower body static and dynamic stretching increase non-local joint range of motion” found – unsurprisingly if you read the title in full – that stretching had a positive effect, and not just locally. It concluded that lower body stretching increased flexibility in the upper body at the same time – and vice-versa. Praise the lord!
Also, a January 2018 paper by Blazevich AJ, Gill ND, Kvorning T et al., titled “No Effect of Muscle Stretching within a Full, Dynamic Warm-up on Athletic Performance”, in Medical Science Sports Exercise, found that “Static stretching does not impact short-term athletic performance – and may reduce injury risk” (https://www.fifamedicinediploma.com/static-stretching-does-not-impact-short-term-athletic-performance-and-may-reduce-injury-risk/)
I’m always asked about stretching, and people will always ‘confess’ to “not stretching enough”. On my Strength and Conditioning For Runners Workshops, we focus almost entirely on Dynamic Stretching, as running is a dynamic activity. This does NOT mean I am anti-static stretching, at all, far from it. Stretching has its place in physical therapy – of course it does.
We can see from the evidence, that science can’t agree completely on its validity as a treatment. However, for some of the people, some of the time, it is essential. But of course, much the same as everything in the fitness and health world, it is not a panacea.
My advice is always to critically appraise your routine; What are you stretching? Why are you stretching it? Is it relevant to your daily activities, or sport? Is the muscle “tight” because it is short, or tight because it is already too long…? If you stretch something, and stretch it, and stretch it, and the symptoms remain, did it need stretching?
For more information, please contact Dan@DC-InjuryClinic.co.uk
N.B. There are no ‘one size fits all’ style quick fixes in most injury scenarios, so these article shouldn’t be seen as such. They are merely guides to a better understanding of how our bodies work