To Stretch or Not to Stretch – That is STILL the Question

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Stretching has been promoted by physiotherapist as a method to prevent injury and improve athletic performance however, research suggests that this may be only be true for regular stretching performed every day. The topic has relevance not only for athletes but for the general population, as range of motion is important to activities of daily living and declines with age.

The challenge with creating a shared opinion based on research is that there are so many different types of stretching and there are additional variables to consider, such as which joints the individual is stretching, how far, how often, how long.

A distinction needs to be made between stretching done as part of long-term training and stretching done just before some other kind of exercise.

Research suggests static stretching decreases performance in athletes, however it is shown to be effective in the prevention of re-injury (static stretching).

Stretching over the long term elongates muscles bit by bit. Stretching also has transient effects: It increases stretch tolerance (perhaps as a result of diminished nervous activity) and reduces muscle stiffness, both of which could help explain published decrements to sports performance.

Researchers note that the problems associated with static stretching should be avoided with dynamic stretching. There are many opinions, and few are willing to acknowledging the weakness of the evidence. If you really want to improve your range of motion, a long-term stretching routine is the way to go.

Keep in mind that not everyone needs to improve range of motion. Prescribing stretches to a hyper-mobile person is counter-intuitive.

The more researchers know about stretching, the more they think the prescription should depend on the individual.