Physical and Occupational Therapy

Stretching…The Good the Bad and the Ugly – Part 1

Stretching is 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 felt elasticity and achieve comfortable muscle tone.[1]Weerapong, Pornratshanee; Hume, Patria A.; Kolt, Gregory S. (2004). “Stretching: Mechanisms and Benefits for Sports Performance and Injury Prevention”. Physical Therapy Reviews. 9 (4): 189–206. doi:10.1179/108331904225007078. 

The result is a feeling of increased muscle control, flexibility, and range of motion. Stretching is also used therapeutically to alleviate cramps. Stretching can be dangerous when performed incorrectly. There are many techniques for stretching in general, but depending on which muscle group is being stretched, some techniques may be ineffective or detrimental, even to the point of causing tears, hypermobility, instability, or permanent damage to the tendons, ligaments, and muscle fiber.  -Tsatsouline, Pavel (2001). Relax into stretch: instant flexibility through mastering muscle tension. Dragon Door Publications. ISBN 978-0-938045-28-1.

So does stretching actually reduce muscle soreness or the risk of injury? The surprising answer is NO. Most studies indicate that stretching alone won’t achieve these feats. (I’m as shocked as you but evidence is evidence people.)   Herbert RD, de Noronha M, Kamper SJ (2011). “Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise”. Cochrane Database Syst Rev (Systematic review) (7): CD004577. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004577.pub3. PMID 21735398.  Behm DG, Blazevich AJ, Kay AD, McHugh M (2016). “Acute effects of muscle stretching on physical performance, range of motion, and injury incidence in healthy active individuals: a systematic review”. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab (Systematic review). 41 (1): 1–11. doi:10.1139/apnm-2015-0235. PMID 26642915.

Sorry about all the citations folks, but I couldn’t claim truths like this without proof. You understand, right? The curious among you will check, for the rest…just scroll through them. 

So for the pro-stretch people like myself here is some good news. Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. … Injured muscles may not be strong enough to support the joints, which can lead to joint injury.  As physical therapists and assistants, we recommend stretching for range of motion. Range of motion at a joint allows the right muscles to contract at the right time and in the right way. It also promotes a posture in which you’ll maintain optimal boney alignment. That’s a big deal because it can reduce pain and help you move in the right way.  Stretching is an intrical part of a multi faceted injury prevention and performance enhancing routine. It’s a piece of the pie, not the whole pie. The key is to create stability in the right places if you’re increasing mobility with stretching.  Stay tuned for part 2 next week where we’ll talk about types of stretching and how to effectively execute the right stretching program for you! **special thanks to my Marine brother for having these great questions & inspiring this series. 

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