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Injury Prevention: Is Your Post-Run Stretching Routine A Waste of Time?

By on May 29, 2014

Post-run stretching makes you flexible. But there’s no reason to believe that a greater range of motion will keep you free from running injury, writes Alex Hutchison in Runner’s World.

Research in this area makes for interesting reading:

  • One of the key papers in this area is The impact of stretching on sports injury risk: a systematic review of the literature. This 2011 paper was cited in the Hutchison article.
  • The paper found that “stretching was not significantly associated with a reduction in total injuries”.
  • The paper concluded that “there is not sufficient evidence to endorse or discontinue routine stretching before or after exercise to prevent injury among competitive or recreational athletes”.

…with no evidence for stretching’s injury-reduction powers, I’m left to decide based on one simple criterion: pleasure. If you like it, carry on. But if you’re one of the browbeaten masses who grudgingly stretch because they feel they “should,” then free yourself from this onerous delusion. I did, and I feel great.

Post-run stretching: The case for the defence

The systematic review is something of a gold standard in the research world. In general, it provides a good summary of where research has got to in any particular field.

But it would be a mistake to think that research on stretching and injury prevention is conclusive. Some research has highlighted a potentially much stronger link, notes Jeff Gaudette for RunnersConnnect.

  • Gaudette highlights a 2005 study by a group of Australian doctors who sought to measure the effects of stretching after exercise and whether it reduced hamstring injuries.
  • The researchers found that the stretching programme decreased hamstring injury rates from an average of 10 athletes per season to three athletes per season.
  • This translated into a sharp decrease in the number of days lost from competition – from 35 days in the non-stretching group to 10 days in the stretching group.

In the words of coach Gaudette:

Not only did this study show that stretching after exercise was beneficial, these findings are consistent with other studies that demonstrate that muscle tightness is a predictor of injury and that increasing flexibility by stretching reduces injury rates.

How should runners interpret the conflicting evidence

In practice, whether or not stretching is a sensible post-run routine may depend crucially on individual runners’ circumstances. Some runners with particularly limited range of motion might find stretching after running to be a useful strategy; others, without such flexibility issues, might find that approach to be a complete waste of time.

As Meghan Loftus argues in the same Runner’s World article:

If you don’t need to stretch, I’m jealous. Enjoy all that free time. But if you have aches and pains, stretching might be part of the prescription that gets you healthy.

Today’s featured video provides a few potentially useful stretching moves, starting with a personal favourite – the popular hip flexor stretch.

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