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Written by Dr. Beau B Hightower
DC, MS, CSCS, CES
Static stretching is a method that athletes and weekend warriors have used for years to prepare for athletic performance, to relax their bodies, and to increase flexibility in hopes of avoiding injury. It has commonly been thought that the static stretch, or holding an elongate position of a particular muscle, would prepare the person for athletic performance, as well as help them to avoid injury. Today we are going to examine the science regarding static stretching and athletic performance as well as compare and discuss the relevance of stretching to the rehab professional and fitness enthusiast alike. It has been common practice for coaches, athletic trainers, and personal trainers to incorporate static stretching into their routines dating back to the days of Eugene Sandow.
Only recently, has the scientific rationale for static stretching been examined. There are two important questions that we need to ask in regards to static stretching. Does static stretching improve performance? Does static stretching decrease the frequency of injury?
The first question was examined recently. Several studies were performed and answered both of our essential questions. The data was not in favor of static stretching regarding either question. One study found that athletic performance was actually decreased in the static stretching group when compared with a group that did not participate in stretching of any kind (Mojock, Kim, Eccles & Panton, 2011). Runners in this study actually performed more poorly and were not able to run as far as the control group which did not stretch. (Mojock, Kim, Eccles & Panton, 2011)
The second question relates the use of static stretching and it’s implications concerning injury prevention. Several studies indicate that static stretching does not change incidence of injury when compared to control groups (Small, Mc Naughto & Martyn, 2008). This tells us, according to evidence-based guidelines, that rehab professionals may be misinforming patients when they instruct athletes to stretch prior to exercise in hopes of preventing injuries from occurring. Thacker etc (2004) suggest that while improved flexibility has been shown to correlate with decreased incidence of injury, that perhaps within the normal ranges of dynamic movement, there is not significant data to infer that stretching prevents injury in the absence of extreme inflexibility.
As physicians, athletic trainers, and coaches, it is imperative to stay abreast of the latest in sports medicine research. The discussion above suggests that static stretching performed before athletic competition does not improve performance, nor decrease the occurrence of injury in the athletic population. Armed with this knowledge, the aforementioned leaders may make better suggestions to help their athletes to improve performance and stay healthy.
So what does this mean? This research suggests that athletes are better served by performing a slow warm-up and including techniques such as foam rolling and gradual dynamic warm ups.
Thacker S, Gilchrist J, Stroup D, Kimsey C, Jr. (2004) The impact of stretching on sports injury risk: A systematic review of the literature. Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 36(3): 271–378.
Mojock, C., Kim, J., Eccles, D., & Panton, L. (2011). The effects of static stretching on running economy and endurance performance in female distance runners during treadmill running. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(8), 2170-2176.
Small, K., McNaughton, L., & Martyn, (2008). A systematic review into the efficacy of static stretching as part of a warm-up for the prevention of exercise-related injury. Research in Sports Medicine,, 16(3), 213-231.
Dr. Beau Hightower is a former collegiate athlete and avid fight fan. He serves as the President of Elite Ortho-Therapy and Sports Medicine LLC, the premier sports injury resolution center in New Mexico.