“I think it is because I didn’t stretch enough” is a common statement when people present to us with a sports injury. There is a common belief that stretching is effective way of preventing injuries, but in reality it is not that simple. In this second article in the series, our physio (and resident weight lifting coach) Julian will look at the proposed benefits of stretching and what the evidence shows.
A review in the most recent British Journal of Sports Medicine looked at sports injury prevention programs for lower limb injuries and found that in general they are effective in reducing injury risk. The most beneficial components were strength and balance. The following statement was made regarding stretching: “stretching added no beneficial effect in decreasing sports injuries. Several other studies also found limited evidence to support the benefits of stretching before or after training for injury prevention.” (1)
Stretching has value in sports, if there is a reason for it. If you cannot squat to full depth, then stretching your hips and ankles could help. When you can’t comfortably hold a barbell overhead, then improving your shoulder and thoracic range of motion can help. If you’re a gymnast and can’t do the splits, then stretching is a good idea. Not everyone needs to be able to touch their toes, and “just being more flexible” is not directly related to a lower risk of injury. (2)
Strength training has repeatedly been shown as effective in reducing sports injuries (1,3). If your goal is to stay injury-free while playing sport, your effort is probably better spent on getting stronger than just trying to get more flexible.
Let me know your thoughts,
(1) Brunner R, Friesenbichler B, Casartelli NC, et al. Effectiveness of multicomponent lower extremity injury prevention programmes in team-sport athletes: an umbrella review. Br J Sports Med 2019;53:282-288.
(2) Lauersen JB, Bertelsen DM, Andersen LB. The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Br J Sports Med 2014;48:871-877.
(3) Shrier I. Stretching before exercise does not reduce the risk of local muscle injury: a critical review of the clinical and basic science literature. Clin J Sport Med 1999;9:221–7.
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