The science of stretching has been the subject of much debate in recent years, with some sports medicine experts claiming that stretching can prevent and treat injuries - with others refuting it and of the opinion that strengthening muscles and tendons is a far more effective form of treatment
So who is right?
In my experience, like so many aspect of sports science, there is an element of truth on both sides of the argument.
In some cases, due to the specific nature of certain injuries and the make-up of an individual’s musculature, then stretching may indeed be the most effective form of treatment to help prevent common injuries to the Achilles, ITB and hamstrings etc.
Although strengthening should always feature as part of any rehabilitation programme, there are certain case when stretching is also beneficial.
In other circumstances however, stretching may not be as necessary and a highly specific strength training programme will be the predominant form of treatment. Strengthening weak muscles and ensure they are strong enough to endure miles and miles of training week in and week out is vital for any runners - regardless of their ability, experience or event distance.
Whenever you read an article which has scrolled up on your social media timeline / newsfeed, addressing the subject of stretching, all too often a “one size fits all” approach is offered, where you are given a series of stretches to do to “help prevent injuries.”
Sadly, this “one size fits all approach” can sometimes cause more problems than it cures, as stretching may not be the most suitable protocol for some runners.
At a clinical level, the science of stretching is complicated and going into detail is way beyond the scope of this article.
Whereas most runners will think of stretching simply as “grabbing hold of a foot and pulling it into your bum to stretch the thighs” for example, at a deeper level, stretching gets complex and can confuse even experienced fitness experts.
Well, really complicated actually.
To give you an idea of just how many ways there are to stretch, here are a few stretching terms and methods which good physiotherapists / personal trainers will consider when treating certain injuries to give you an insight into how complex stretching can be:
-Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation
- Contract / relax
- Phasic and Tonic musculature
- Dynamic, passive and active stretches
- Soft tissue release
- Active tissue release
- Positional release
- Trigger pointing
- Connective tissue (Fascia) release/massage
As you can see, stretching is a lot more complicated than you may have initially thought.
Although in many cases stretching muscles which feel tight may be beneficial, in some instances muscles may in fact be “taut” and not “tight” meaning that a more in depth assessment of your biomechanics will be needed to ensure your injury (or future injury) can be treated or prevented effectively.
If you are in any doubt, seek professional advice from a physiotherapist.
As a general rule of thumb, stretching can indeed help reduce your chances of picking up muscle / tendon injuries, especially to the calves and hamstrings, so stretch on a regular basis if you feel that your muscles are tight.