Stretching-Does It Reduce the Risk of Sports Injuries?

 In Exercise and Health

Stretching-Does It Reduce the Risk of Sports Injuries?

The effects and proposed benefits of stretching have long been purported by the health care industry. Likewise the sports loving population of Australia widely acknowledges and accepts that stretching is ‘good for you.

As a practicing physiotherapist I regularly have clients tell me that they ‘should stretch more’ or that there injury is likely caused because they ‘didn’t stretch’ before they exercised.

A Change in Approach to Stretching

Several decades ago the world of sports medicine and the health care industry stopped giving advice to perform static stretches* before commencing or undertaking exercise.  This long held way of warming up is slowly being abandoned. Today most people seem to have some awareness that they are better of performing dynamic (or movement based) warm up exercises such as a light jog, compared with a static stretching regime.

Recent Research

Most interestingly a group of Danish researchers have recently published a scientific research paper (1) that challenges the effectiveness of stretching in reducing and preventing sports injuries. In total 25 clinical trials that included 26,610 participants with 3,464 injuries were analysed as part of the literature review.

The review aimed to determine the effectiveness of exercise interventions in preventing sports injuries. Strength training, stretching, proprioception (balance) training and a combination of these were reviewed in order to determine their effectiveness in the prevention of sports injuries.

The results were extremely interesting. Researchers found that:

a.       Strength training reduced sports injuries to less than one-third and overuse injuries reduced by half.

b.           Proprioception also reduced injury occurrence.

c.       Stretching was the only exercise intervention that was not found to be effective in preventing sports injury occurrence.

The Stretching Take Homes from the Reseacrh

So what do you the reader of this article need to take from these interesting findings?

My suggestions are:

a.       Firstly do not ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’! Don’t vow to never stretch again on the basis of these review findings alone.

b.      Acknowledge that stretching does have a place in sports injury management. I share regularly with my clients that if they need to stretch they are best to stretch in the evening or after a training or exercise session. The majority of injuries that I as a physiotherapist treat have a muscle group that is excessively tight and creating pain and problems. An example is the effect of tight quadriceps and the effect that tight quadriceps have on the creation and propagation of many people’s knee pain.

c.        I have for many years coached clients that are better off completing strength/stability type of exercises before they exercise and as a priority ahead of completing a home based stretching regime. An example may be the runner suffering from ITB friction syndrome pain who would gain greater benefit from completing hip stability and strengthening exercises ahead of trying to stretch the lower limbs.

d.      Incorporate some regular strengthening exercises into your weekly exercise regime. This may include exercises such as side bridges, bridges, or more advanced exercises such as Leyton Hewitts, or Fire Hydrants. Such exercises can yield great benefits even when completed just two-three times per week. Standard strength and conditioning guidelines are to complete 3 sets of 12 repetitions of such exercises.

There are an array of strength based exercises that can be viewed from the POGO Physio YOUTUBE channel HERE.

Incorporate some regular strengthening exercises into your weekly exercise regime #strength #health #wellness… Click To Tweet

e.      Remember that tight muscles (ie muscles that regularly feel like you need to stretch them) are often ‘weak’ muscles. An example that I commonly encounter is client’s suffering from recurring calf muscle tightness. They are often perplexed as they regularly stretch their calves yet they continue to feel tight. Calf strengthening exercises such as single leg calf raises (aiming for 30-50 repetitions) performed regularly often eliminates the calf muscle tightness (click HERE to view this exercise).

So next time you are tempted to stretch consider performing some strengthening exercises instead and judge for yourself whether stretching or strengthening is more efficient.

*static stretches are stretches that are held for 30s-1min-an example is the quadriceps stretch-pulling the heel to the bottom to stretch the thigh area.

Brad Beer (APAM)

Brad Beer physiotherapist runner author

POGO Founder, Physiotherapist, Author

References

(1).Lauersen, J. B, Bertelsen, D.M, Andersen, L.B. 2013. The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials- Review. Br J Sports Med doi:10.1136/bjsports-2013-092538 

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