Stretching the Truth?

March 19, 2016

To stretch or not to stretch?  Patients frequently ask this all too common question.  And a web search will yield results favoring both sides of the argument.   It is confusing at best, and even the "experts" don't agree.

A recent article in The New York TImes Magazine from January 24, 2016, examined this very question.  This article cited a recent systematic review in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism that examined 200 studies on the effects of stretching on physical performance.   In this meta-analysis, the researchers reviewed a decade's worth of research on pre-activity stretching and found the following:

1-Short duration static stretching (<60 seconds) provided a short-term moderate improvement at lengthened muscle positions.

2-Post stretching dynamic activities (warm-up) showed no further improvement on physical performance to the static stretching.

3-Dynamic stretching provided small-to-moderate improvements when completed minutes before the main activity.

4-No particular form of stretching had a clear effect on injury risk reduction.

Even though there were only small-to-moderate improvements in performance, the authors of the meta-analysis recommended short-duration stretching (<60 seconds) within a warm-up program.  They also advised post-stretching dynamic exercises to properly warm-up muscles before activity, which can reduce risk of muscle injuries without any detrimental effects to performance.

In summary, light stretching of short duration (<60 seconds), when used as part of a complete pre-activity warm-up, will improve range of motion for a short time and will not have detrimental effects on performance.  But, the dynamic warm-up is most responsible for reducing muscle injury risk, not the stretching.


Further Reading:

Medscape Article about static stretching

Free Full-Text of the journal article can be found here.


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