You might be surprised to find out that the simple activity of stretching is being debated. That’s because recent stretching studies have produced varied findings. Namely, stretching’s ability to prevent injury is being called into question.
In an interview published by Stanford Medicine, Michael Fredericson, MD, head team physician with the Stanford Sports Medicine Program, says that while static stretching can increase muscle length, it doesn't necessarily benefit all athletes the same way. That isn't to say you shouldn't stretch at all, he elaborated in a New York Times column. Dr. Fredericson believes dynamic stretching--where one moves while lengthening muscles--might better reduce injuries and soreness. He suggests doing jumping jacks instead of toe touches before exercising, and only stretching muscles where “frequent tightness” is felt after exercising.
The Mayo Clinic also acknowledges this discussion and believes stretching is still beneficial.
In fact, the non-profit leader in medical care, research and education states the following on its website: “Although studies about the benefits of stretching are mixed, stretching may help you improve your joint range of motion, which in turn may help improve your athletic performance and decrease your risk of injury.”
About.com turned to another expert to get to the bottom of stretching’s advantages. Donald Rourke, PT, physical therapist and certified myofascial stretch therapist at Sports Therapy And Rehabilitation Services of the North Shore-LIJ Health System in East Meadow, NY, shares five benefits of stretching below.
1. Stretching helps improve flexibility and joint range of motion.
When human tissue is placed under a load or tension the tissue will adapt and increase its ability to move through a greater range of motion. By loading or tensioning the tissue in small increments we can push the barrier to further limits of tissue length and joint range of motion.
2. Stretching helps to improve athletic performance.
Stretching may benefit athletic performance by allowing the athlete’s joints to work through a greater range of motion. This will allow the athlete to produce more power and attain greater speeds. Greater benefit can be derived when the stretching is combined with mild to moderate isometrics contractions in the newly attained range of motion. This promotes joint stability allowing the athlete to maximize performance. This is what makes stretching useful to athletes, when tissue flexibility translates into improved mobility.
3. Stretching can decrease one’s risk of injury.
Stretching is a great way to promote the tissues adaptations needed to resist increased loads/forces. In athletics, when the force incurred on tissue exceeds its capacity to absorb the load, an injury results.
4. Stretching increases circulation (and that's a good thing).
Contrary to past beliefs, when we stretch correctly, it is not just the muscle which are affected. Proper stretching is imparted to all of the connective tissue of which our vessels are a part of. Therefore stretching will promote proper tension along the lines through which the vessels travel. This promotes proper flow of the venous and lymphatic systems which are extremely important for recovery from athletic events.
5. Stretching helps to relieve stress.
Stretching relieves stress by coaxing the body to move from active responses to subconscious responses. Performing stretching in a relaxed environment and using techniques such as breathing and meditation can reduce any unneeded neurologic tone or tension in the tissue and allow for normalization of the tissue’s length. This technique requires an approach of slowly easing into the stretch and the use of breathing to help with the relaxation and avoidance of resistance from the nervous system (ie: explore the movement slowly, listen to the tissue, and do not force the stretch).