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To Stretch or Not to Stretch? That Is the Question

For years there’s been conflicting information given regarding the dangers and benefits of stretching. Is dynamic stretching better than static stretching? Should stretching be done with or without a warm-up? Does stretching prevent injury or encourage it? These are only a few of the many questions being studied right now about stretching.

A recent 2016 systematic review published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism clarifies the IMMEDIATE EFFECTS of stretching on performance. Today we’ll cover the broad strokes of this publication, speaking to the various long standing questions about certain aspects of stretching.

Stretch Duration (Short vs. Long Stretch Durations)

Five studies imposed stretching interventions lasting less than 5 minutes. Of those, 2 studies showed a benefit to stretching, where others showed benefits of stretching with lower injury rates associated with stretching for greater than 5 minutes. Thus, longer (total) duration stretching may have a greater potential to decrease injury risk.

Stretching With vs. Without Warm-Up

Based on the current body of research, it is not possible to comment on the role of stretching with respect to injury prevention when performed with or without warm-up. However, because muscle stretching and warm-ups may have similar effects on muscles elastic (“stretchability”) properties, it is possible that both may influence injury risk.

All-Cause Injury Rate vs. Specific Injury Rates

Six studies specified the effects of stretching on the prevalence of acute muscle injuries. Form these studies, it was possible to compute the relative risk of sustaining an acute muscle injury associated with stretching versus not stretching. Taken together, these studies indicate at 54% risk reduction of acute muscle injuries associated with stretching!

One study also indicated that stretching was associated with a reduction in “bothersome soreness”. However, most research has demonstrated that stretching prior to exercise is ineffective in reducing soreness or other symptoms of muscle damage, with one recent exception showing some benefits of stretching.

Reference: Behm, DG, Blazevich, AJ, Kay AD, and McHugh, M. Acute effects of muscle stretching on physical performance, range of motion, and injury incidence in healthy active individuals: a systematic review. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 2016; 41(1): 1-11.

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