To stretch or not

Louise Evans advises

Louise Evans is an Advanced Clinical and sports massage therapist with 19 years experience. She is committed to her work and is currently sitting the UK’s highest level in massage therapy (BTEC 6 professional diploma in Advanced Clinical and sports massage therapy) and on completion in October will be the only holder in Wales.

Here Louise discusses the benefits of stretch exercises before and after sport.

Since 2005/06, participation of adults in at least one session of 30 mins of moderate intensity sport in the last week has increased significantly.  The fitness industry is worth £3.6 billion and as more people participate in sports and other recreational activities through social changes and increased recognition that physical activity is part of a healthy lifestyle, injury prevention becomes more important. 

SEPT2012louisepicThe cause of injury in sport is multifaceted, ranging from incorrect training plans and ill-fitting shoes to impact injuries and muscle fatigue through over training.  Different sporting activities will bring their own risk of injury, for example runners’ knee, tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow.  So, it will always be prudent to be aware of the risks involved in your chosen sport/activity so you can guard against injury. 

One way of preparing your body physically for your chosen sport/activity is to stretch.  Athletes, coaches, trainers and therapists recommend stretching in an effort to both prevent injury and enhance performance; numerous journal articles and textbooks are devoted to the topic, providing a variety of approaches directed to different parts of the body and for specific sporting activities.  Stretch exercises play a large part of an athlete’s training regime, incorporating stretch in warm-up and cooling-down exercises. 

However, the questions of when to stretch, how to stretch and how long should the stretch be held are not always easily answered

The debate of whether to stretch pre-workout or post-workout has been deliberated for years and is still an on-going source of confusion.  Some researchers have concluded that stretching has a beneficial effect on performance and reduction of injury and others have stated that stretching not only fails in these areas but can possibly cause injury. 

The same questions arise for the person with a more sedentary lifestyle. For example, the individual who works at an office desk five days a week and for whatever reason is unable to participate in a sporting activity.  With rising incidents of repetitive strain injuries due to computer based work it begs the question of whether we should be stretching more.

The answers to these questions will depend on the individual. 

However, what we do know is that:-

    A Dynamic stretch warm-up that is sport specific, pre-exercise has been proven to be beneficial in the prevention of injury.

    Static stretching (stretches that are held in one position for a length of time) should be held for at least 15 seconds to be effective.

    Having a good balance of strength and flexibility around a joint provides us with a good baseline for healthy joint mobility.

    Regularity of stretching is the key for maintaining your gains in flexibility.

Wolffs* principle states that, over time, bones remodel themselves along the lines of force that are placed upon them.  What this means is that our movement through our lifetime will have an effect on our health and posture.  Keeping a free, unrestricted range of motion in our joints is therefore most beneficial and that mobility will help put us in the best position possible to avoid injury.

*Wolff’s law is a theory developed by the German Anatomist/Surgeon Julius Wolff(1836–1902) in the 19th century that states that bone in a healthy person or animal will adapt to the loads it is placed under. Source: Wikipedia

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