What you need to know about stretching

Stretching couple stretch together

One of the most common questions asked to a physio is “What stretches should I do for a specific area or body part. The answer to this is always “Well what is the outcome you want?”

Stretching is a hotly debated topic in the physical medicine literature. As with anything, there is no absolute right or wrong answer. Therefore it comes down to the individuals’ goals. Once goals are established, the role of stretching as far as which type (static or dynamic), how long for and the intensity can be decided upon.

So what are your reasons for stretching? Is it to warm up for an activity? Is it for injury prevention? Is it for pain? Or is it to get more flexible? Or do you just like the suffering?

Here are some thoughts on each area:

Warm up

The purpose of a warm-up is to prepare yourself for the activity you are going to do. Therefore, if your activity involves significant stretching like a contortionist then go for gold. However, if it is an activity like football or rugby more may be gained from more dynamic movements such as leg swings, and graduated sprinting, simulating what may be occurring in the activity itself. Think of it as movement preparation rather than a warm-up.

Injury Prevention

There is some evidence that static stretching may be effective as an injury prevention for muscle injuries. This is far outweighed by the effects of resistance and conditioning training. Long story short – if you have time for injury prevention, more will be gained from strength and conditioning training… rather than spending your time stretching. Sorry lazy bums!

Reduce Pain

Does stretching help with pain? Pain is an interesting topic and one beyond the scope of this brief write up! The suggestion would be that if there is a degree of pain or fear of over-stretching during movement then gradually exposing yourself to this would be a great way to build resilience. However, there are some situations where stretching may be aggravating, especially in the early stages of muscle or tendon injuries.

Get more flexible

There is debate about whether stretching works by building your tolerance to positions rather than a structural change in the muscle itself. Therefore rather than focussing on individual muscle groups, more might be gained from focussing on the movement you want to improve. Say you want to improve your flexibility for a squat/lift then the best way to practice this is to stretch into a squat position.

In summary, there is a right way to stretch, but it is only right for you and your desired goal. If you need a hand your friendly TBI Therapist can point you in the right direction. Happy potential stretching!