Does Stretching Prevent Injury?
the mantra of the exercise gurus everywhere: Stretch before you
exercise, stretch after you exercise, and you'll avoid injury.
Sounds like good advice, but a growing
body of research suggests it's wrong.
While stretching doesn't seem to
be harmful in general, it typically isn't worth the time or effort,
said Dr. Stephen Thacker, co-author of a new study examining research
"It's not so much that stretching
will injure you. It's that it doesn't do anything," he said.
But the views of Thacker and others
are far from widely accepted, and many exercise experts continue
to recommend that athletes and weekend warriors devote some time
"The jury is still out,"
said Werner W.K. Hoeger, director of the Human Performance Laboratory
at Boise State University.
At issue is whether the stated purpose
of stretching -- to boost flexibility, thus reducing the chance
of injury -- is ever actually accomplished. U.S. researchers set
out to find the answer by examining six previous studies that explored
the benefits of stretching. They reported their findings in the
March 2004 issue of the journal Medicine & Science in Sports
"What we found was that stretching
prior to competition or other physical activity did not prevent
injury," said Thacker, director of the Epidemiology Program
Office at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "We
also found that stretching prior to activity could have a bad effect.
You might not jump as high or run as fast."
Thacker acknowledged his study didn't
look at two areas where stretching might be beneficial -- in the
short periods between competitive events and during physical therapy.
But the time between competitions doesn't have much to do with typical
exercise, he said. "That's not right before you're going to
go run your 5K or play in your basketball game," he added.
Overall, the researchers said there
isn't enough firm evidence to recommend stretching or fully reject
But they did find plenty of evidence
that warming up -- actually exercising muscles instead of stretching
them -- helps boost flexibility and performance. "If you're
a jogger, start slow," Thacker said. "If you're a golfer,
start with some easy golf swings."
But even flexibility might not be
all it's cracked up to be. A 1999 study of 303 military recruits
found that both the most flexible and the least flexible were at
highest risk of injury.
Not surprisingly, stretching still
has plenty of defenders. The problem with existing research is that
it isn't strong enough to debunk stretching, Hoeger said. Ideally,
researchers would follow a few thousand people for several years
to see how stretching affected them, he said.
"The problem we have is that
that kind of research is very time-consuming and lengthy,"
he said. "A lot of people haven't shown an interest."
To make matters more complicated,
no one knows what the ideal level of flexibility is for, say, a
quarterback or gymnast, Hoeger said.
Some activities -- like gymnastics,
dance, diving and swimming -- seem to require more flexibility,
while sports like basketball and volleyball don't, he added.
Hoeger recommends that people continue
to stretch. "We need to keep in mind that flexibility should
be an overall component of your conditioning program."
information of stretching and flexibility
information on the fundamentals of fitness
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