From West 4th Physiotherapy associate Dee Malinsky
Stretching (The Truth)
In a recent course my colleagues and I attended, entitled “New Trends in the Prevention of Running Injuries,” Jean Francois Esculier discussed an ongoing and pertinent topic in the field of running, and one which directly relates to a question I am asked frequently in the clinic: Is stretching a good thing? Are there any real benefits?
Jean eased into the discussion by reviewing the current best evidence:
1. Stretching does NOT increase muscle temperature.
2. Stretching does NOT prevent DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness- what we experience after a challenging or new workout)
3. Stretching does NOT improve post-workout recovery.
Good to know. He continued on to discuss the positives and negatives of stretching, according to recent studies:
Positives – yes there are some real benefits.
– Regular stretching has a positive effect on performance for: speed, strength & impulsion (jumping); its effect is unknown (or may be opposite) for endurance.
– Regular stretching has a positive influence on the prevention of injuries if practiced at a distance from workouts.
– Most research finds that muscle stretching during warm-up has a negative influence on speed, strength, impulsion & endurance.
– Stretching a muscle in an excessive range temporarily increases its tolerance to pain and in doing so alters its ability to protect itself from too much lengthening; therefore, stretching before an activity does not decrease the risk of injury and may even increase it!
Other important things to consider? That one’s risk of injury generally increases at the lower (eg. very tight) and higher (eg. hyperflexible) ends of the spectrum; that 15min of biking and 15min of cold stretching have similar effects; and that the length of our muscles always has adapted, and will continue adapting, to our function!
To review, and in response to the question “Should I stretch??,” Jean concludes:
– to normalize muscle stiffness/length
– after a workout if that is comfortable (think: static, slow, gradual)
– proximal muscles (those closer to the core of our body)
– if you’re already hyperflexible
– before workouts (unless it helps to counter an existing condition)
– calf stretching (research finds that decreased length is actually more “economical” for runners, and tightness can actually increase propulsion!…hmm)
Of course, with all of the above in mind, it is imperative to keep in mind that muscle tightness, as well as imbalances in muscle length & strength, are very much individual, and that our own functional demands (what each of us needs, for work and play) are individual as well. I am a firm believer in addressing the way (or positions in which) we do our activities, first and foremost, and considering what muscles may need to be lengthened or strengthened after that.
For more information regarding relevant research, check out www.therunningclinic.com. Also, see your physiotherapist for a consultation and assessment, to address whether stretching (in regards to minimizing symptoms, or maximizing the way you run, work or play) is appropriate for you!
~Dee Malinsky, MScPT