Stretching: Myths Vs. Realities
By John O’Halloran, DPT, OCS, LAT, ATC, CSCS, Cert MDT
A very common and acceptable pre exercise or athletic event activity is stretching. Stretching has long been widely recognized as a necessity for fitness, flexibility and above all injury prevention. However over the last couple of years this popular activity has been questioned on whether it really does indeed prevent injury. In 2004 The Centers of Disease Control (CDC) reported that static stretching does not prevent injury. Now as a licensed Physical Therapist and Certified Athletic Trainer I have been telling my patients for years that stretching “prevents” injury. And then the CDC came out with that one and I thought about all the inaccurate advice I had been promoting over the years. Well like anything else you have to not believe everything you read until you critically evaluated the information. After I read the CDC’s review of the literature it was concluded that STATIC STRETCHING did not prevent injury in most populations. It did show that it did prevent injury in older folks and young athletes who require extreme ranges of motion such as ballet or dance. But for the average Joe or Jane who goes out and runs 10-15 miles per week and does a little static calf or quadriceps stretching you cannot state that those stretches will PREVENT injury. Bottom line with all of this is that static (no bouncing) stretching held for 15-20 seconds for 3 repetitions is not going to hurt you but it is not going to prevent injury or improve athletic performance.
The reason being is that sports and weekend warrior activities are performed in a dynamic fashion. The muscles, tendons and joints are pulled through many different single and multi-planar movements with varying degrees of contraction types. Injuries such as hamstring or achilles strains are the result of that muscle or tendon not being able to control the violent lengthening or stretch required of the activity. The key component here is control. Control requires balance and the ability of that muscle or tendon to be trained to lengthen (mobility) while having adequate stability.
One of the most neglected areas to train in rehabilitation or fitness routines is balance and controlled mobility activities. Most of our traditional exercise equipments and stretching routines are performed in one plane of movement. Examples of this are traditional cardiovascular machines like treadmills, stair steppers, and stationary bikes. Examples of single plane stretches are your typical toe touch hamstring or wall calf stretches. The problem with this is that movements of activities of daily living and sports are multi-planar and multi contractions. So if you only stretch statically and then do a multi plane activity then yes I can see how the CDC concluded that STATIC stretching does not prevent injury. Remember that not many activities are static and isometric.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR INJURY PREVENTION AND PERFORMANCE ENHANCEMENT
- Warm-up your body first by a light jog or stationary bike 5-7 minutes
- Perform some gentle conventional stretching- may perform stretches that you are currently doing
- Incorporate multi-planar and add a little more dynamic stretching to your routine moving your muscles and joints through the ranges of motion that are required of your sport or activity- 2-3 sets 20-30 seconds
Remember that if you would like to take your activity to another level and put yourself in a better position to prevent injuries controlled dynamic multi-planar stretching may be your answer. If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment to discuss or review your current program please contact me at (336) 235-4501