Does Stretching Stop Injuries?
We’re often told to stretch,that it will reduce pain or that stretching will benefit our sport or that it may reduce the incidence of sports injuries. A quick google search suggested other benefits. In this post I’m going to take a look at some of the suggested benefits of stretching. I’ve grouped some of them together, as in my opinion some of the suggested benefits overlap.
- Increases flexibility; One of stretchings main benefits is to increase length of a muscle or the range of motion across a joint. This appears to be true, if the stretch is performed correctly. Although in my opinion most stretches aren’t specific enough to work on trigger points, or through scar tissue. Care also needs to be taken as some research has shown that injury can happen from being too flexible, the same is true from being too inflexible.
- Reduces muscle imbalance; This should be taken in tandem with increasing flexibility and as part of an overall balancing and flexibility program.
- Improves circulation; This is an interesting one. I normally like to think of, and describe muscles as a sponge. Imagine taking a sponge and squeezing it in to a ball and lowering it into a bucket of water. Now take it out. No water runs out, because no water has soaked in. Now exchange the squeezed sponge for a tight muscle. Blood would have greater trouble flowing in, and through the muscle possibly resulting in increased blood pressure. When you compare that to a non squeezed sponge and how easily the water flows in and out it would seem to make sense to stretch a muscle to aid blood flow. This may also help increase recovery rates.
- Decreases anxiety and stress, relaxes muscles, can give you an overall feeling of well-being; This I believe is as part of a relaxation or meditation routine. There may be some endorphin release associated with stretching, or it could be the time-out taken from your life while stretching helps you relax and releases tension.
- Reduces risk of injury; There is actually very little evidence for this. particularly for stretching prior to exercise. Although Stretching can help improve flexibility, and better flexibility may improve your performance in physical activities or decrease your risk of injuries by helping your joints move through their full range of motion. For instance, imagine the muscles in your calf attaching to your Achilles tendon are tight and lack flexibility. If you do a lot of hill walking, your foot may not move through its full range of motion. Over time, this can increase your risk of tendonitis or tendonopathy in your Achilles tendon. Stretching the muscles that attach to your achilles tendon, may improve the range of motion in your ankle. This, in turn, may decrease the risk of microtrauma to your tendon that can lead to overload and injury.
So here we have 5 benefits of stretching. Will they help you reduce injury, make you faster or feel better? Try it and find out. I’d be interested to hear your experiences so leave a comment. Next post will be on the muscles you can’t stretch.