Static stretching has long played an important role in the world of sport and fitness, with many athletes stretching religiously before and after exercise in hopes of preventing injuries.
Lately, this practice has been called into question with many people wondering if stretching really makes a difference to athletic performance. The answer, like most things, is not black and white, as we explore a little in this article.
A brief introduction to stretching from our Physiotherapists at Edinburgh Sports + Spinal Physiotherapy
Stretching is a type of movement that increases flexibility by lengthening muscle fibres to the end of their range. Stretching before and after exercise has been thought to reduce the risk of injury, improve athletic performance and reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Static stretching is when you lengthen your muscle and then hold that position for a period of time.
There is also another type of stretching known as dynamic stretching, which uses movement and momentum of the body to stretch muscles to their end range, without holding the stretch at the end. We often use dynamic stretching during warm-ups to move joints and muscles in a manner that is specific to the movements you will complete during the activity. Examples of dynamic stretches are lunges and squats etc.
What does the research say about static stretching?
Some research has suggested that static stretching before an activity can actually reduce power, strength and performance. However, these reductions were shown to be minimal and not noticed at all if the stretches were held for less than 45 seconds. It has also been found that stretching does improve flexibility but only for a short period of time. A few minutes after stretching, your joints move further, and with less resistance, so you may have improved flexibility immediately after stretching.
Why stretch at all?
One thing that is undeniable is that stretching feels great! Many people feel more relaxed and report a rush of endorphins after a good stretching session. From a research point of view, it is difficult to test the long-term effects of stretching specific muscles that show abnormal tightness. Nevertheless, what we do know is that a long-term static stretching routine will improve your overall flexibility. This is thought to help prevent injuries, although the evidence is inconclusive.
If you’re an athlete, the decision to stretch or not may be a personal one. We would recommend warming up prior to exercise with the inclusion of dynamic stretching, with emphasis placed on preparing the body with movements you are about to undertake. This is generally recommended for reducing injury risk, however this is of course is not guaranteed. We would suggest using a combined program of flexibility, strength and balance training which would have a far greater impact on reducing injuries in the long term.
Edinburgh Sports + Spinal Physiotherapy
The physiotherapists at Edinburgh Sports + Spinal Physiotherapy are able to guide you on the best stretching advice for your individual activity. In addition, they may be able to identify some areas where improving your flexibility and strength will help to reduce injuries and improve your movement and performance.
None of the information in this article is a replacement for medical advice. Always see a medical or health professional for advice on your individual injury.
Please contact Edinburgh Sports + Spinal Physiotherapy for additional advice or to book an appointment.
0131 235 2354