Is Stretching Good for You?


We do know, when done correctly, stretching won't hurt you.

I know it sounds like a lawyer answering - kind of circular.

- If you have a problem, you didn't do it right.

- If you did it right, you wouldn't have a problem

What? As Rudy Giuliani might say, "That's just how lawyers talk!" What?

Stretching Does Not Prevent Injury - In Athletes

OK - I'll stop fooling around. I think I may have been adding to the overall confusion about stretching the past few years.

I routinely tell people that "static" stretching does not prevent injuries.

Static stretching is "old fashioned" stretching. It includes bending over to touch your toes or leaning against the wall to stretch you calf muscles. I know lots of teams and individual athletes still stretch like this.

There have been studies to see if this kind of stretching prevents injuries. Studies have not shown that old fashioned static stretching prevents injuries in athletes

How Stretching Can Help You Avoid Injections or Surgery

Back Pain Example

A common cause of back pain is stenosis - a narrowing of the spaces in your back. There is a good chance you have stenosis if:

  1. You are over 50 and your pain increases when standing and walking.

  2. Your pain goes away when you sit.

The narrowing causes pressure or pinching of the nerves resulting in back pain. The stenosis can also cause sciatica - pain, tingling, and numbness that can also travel down your legs to your feet. Stenosis is causes by wear and tear including disc degeneration and arthritis.

All different types of stenosis have on thing in common. The pain goes away if you hold you back flat. Flattening your back opens and lines up the space the nerves travel through. This relieves the nerve pressure - causing the pain to go away.

To hold your back flat you need to have enough flexibility. Most people with stenosis

don't have enough flexibility to hold their back flat. This is where stretching comes in. You can develop the flexibility through stretching to allow you to hold you back flat.

The other options are injection into your spine or surgery. The injections block inflammation that puts pressure on the nerve. It doesn't last because you don't address the problem. So most people have to go back for more injections every few months. You can have a limited number per year and it's a temporary fix.

Surgery sounds more permanent - just open the space by cutting away the excess bone. The problems in many people is scar tissue that forms and puts the pressure back on the nerves. The studies show that simple therapy with stretching and strengthening exercises is as good as surgery. And there is no risk like with surgery.

Joint Pain Example

We see a lot of people that have joint pain. Like knee pain or shoulder pain. It is often caused by degeneration and arthritis from the wear and tear of life. Stretching doesn't cure degeneration or arthritis. Nothing does - it's a normal part of life. But stretching, along with strengthening, prevents force from concentrating on the joint. This prevents overloading and pain.

Stretching Helps You Heal After an Injury

Injuries involve tissue damage. When you have damaged tissue, you get scar tissue. At first, scar tissue isn't organized. Stretching gets the scar tissue organized and lined up to replace the damaged tissue. We use stretching so you end up with healthy organized tissue to replace the damaged tissue.

Stretching Can Prevent You from Having an Injury

I know I already said stretching doesn't protect athletes from injury. And that's what the studies show. Your body adapts to how it is moved. You don't get injured doing motions you normally do. That's why athletes don't reduce injuries from extra stretching.

We do see a lot of people that get injured moving in a way they don't normally move.

  • If you don't bend over a lot to pick things up you probably have a stiff back.

  • If you walk around your yard and bend over picking up sticks for a hour you will get a sore back.

You did a repetitive movement your body wasn't used to. If you had been doing a regular exercise program that included the same movements you used to bend over and pick up sticks your back wouldn't hurt. That's how stretching prevents injury.

Stretching Recommendations

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends stretching all major muscle groups 2-3 days per week. They recommend 10-30 seconds for most adults. Each stretch should be repeated 2 to 4 times. The goal is a total of 60 seconds per stretch.

Which Stretches

The National Institute of Health "Go4Life" website provides a lot of good information on exercise. From the Go4Life home page click on "Try these Exercises" and then click on "Flexibility." You will find specific instructions for a comprehensive set of stretching exercises. They also have good sections of endurance, strength, and balance exercises.

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Christopher DiPasquale, PhD, PT, OCS, SCS, CHT is a physical therapist at Performance Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine, with offices in Hebron and Colchester, Connecticut. He is board certified by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties in Orthopedic Physical Therapy and Sports Physical Therapy and a Certified Hand Therapist by the Hand Therapy Certification Committee. Visit pptsm.com for more information. You can call the Hebron office at 860-228-4883 or send an email to hebron@pptsm.com. You can call the Colchester office at 860-537-3014 or send an email to colchester@pptsm.com.


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