How important is stretching to help prevent injuries?

How important is stretching?

The science of stretching has been the subject of much debate in recent years with some sports medicine experts claiming that stretching can prevent and treat injuries, whilst others refute it and are of the opinion that strengthening muscles and tendons is a far more effective form of treatment So who is right?

In my experience, like so many aspect of sports science, there is an element of truth in both sides of the argument.

In some cases, due to the specific nature of certain injuries and the make-up of an individual’s musculature, then stretching may indeed be the most effective form of treatment to help prevent common injuries to the Achilles, ITB and hamstrings etc.

Although strengthening should always feature as part of any rehabilitation programme, there are certain case when stretching is also beneficial.

In other circumstances however, stretching may not be as necessary and a highly specific strength training programme will be the predominant form of treatment, to strengthen up weak muscles and tendons, to ensure they are strong enough to endure miles and miles of training week in and week out.

One size does NOT fit all

Whenever you read an article which has scrolled up on your social media timeline / newsfeed, addressing the subject of stretching, all too often a “one size fits all” approach is offered, where you are given a series of stretches to do to “help prevent injuries.”

Sadly, this “one size fits all approach” can sometimes cause more problems than it cures as stretching may not be the most suitable protocol for some runners. At a clinical level, the science of stretching is complicated and going into detail is way beyond the scope of this article. Whereas most runners will think of stretching simply as “grabbing hold of a foot and pulling it into your bum to stretch the thighs” for example, at a deeper level, stretching gets complex and can confuse even experienced fitness experts.

How complicated exactly?

Well here are a few stretching terms which good physiotherapists will consider when treating certain injuries and will give you an idea of how complex stretching can be:

  • Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation
  • Contract / relax
  • MET’s
  • Phasic and Tonic musculature
  • Dynamic, passive and active stretches
  • Soft tissue release
  • Active tissue release
  • Positional release
  • Trigger pointing
  • Connective tissue (Fascia) release/massage

Tight or Taut?

As you can see, stretching is a lot more complicated than you may have initially thought.

Although in many cases stretching muscles which feel tight may certainly be beneficial, in some instances muscles may in fact be “taut” and not “tight” meaning that a more in depth assessment of you biomechanics will be needed to ensure your injury (or future injury) can be treated or prevented effectively.

If you are in any doubt, seek professional advice from a physiotherapist.

So, as a general rule of thumb, yes, if done properly, stretching can indeed help reduce your chances of picking up muscle / tendon injuries, especially to the calves and hamstrings but it is by no means the only answer to your injury woes.

Often, a specific prescribed programme of stretching and strengthening is the perfect combination to help prevent injury.

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