Another article sums up the latest professional spin on stretching. Done on runners, many many runners, of all ages, some of whom were assigned a 5 mins stretching routine, others who were asked not to – it took two years to find enough who would not stretch – the study found that 16% of stretchers and 16% of non-stretchers got injured over the course of the study. Thus, stretching’s a wash.
But is it?
They also found that 23% of former stretchers who stopped stretching for the study got injured. The researchers concluded that the change of training habits likely contributed to their injuries and warned that “sudden changes are probably not a good idea.” I hate to say ‘duh’ but there’s more to this than meets the eye.
I’ve written before on the lack of benefits of stretching and the value of dynamic warm ups instead. And I stand by the research both professionally and personally, from experience. But I do want to clarify something here: stretching passively may indeed be necessary for those who have conditions or muscle imbalances that do contribute to injury, such as ITB syndrome or patellofemoral pain.
I would also add that for many, static stretching is essential even compared to dynamic stretching. Older adults, those with known pathologies, and those for whom balance may be an issue benefit from slow, long-held stretches. Of course, a dynamic warm up of even light walking loosens up the intended muscles and gets blood flowing deeper into the tissue to be stretched, so don’t forget that part PRIOR to your stretches. Nonetheless, there is still merit here.
What makes this study interesting was the data on previous stretchers’ injuries. What we did not hear, though, is a breakdown of the nature of the injuries incurred. It is very possible that the non-stretchers suffered injuries that would indeed have been mitigated if not prevented had they stretched.
It’s also possible that the stretchers, feeling like they’d warmed up enough, went out too fast and furious and thus injured themselves for reasons totally different than those related to stretching. As such, we still do not know whether or not stretching is beneficial or possibly hurtful.
Though large-subject pool studies have shown no benefits, like this study, it’s not unreasonable to think that stretchers get injured as much as non-stretchers, just with different types of injuries. Therefore, stretchers may not need to stretch and non-stretchers need to stretch but we’ll never know until a study looks at the nature of the injuries within each group. Till then, stretch if you need, stretch if you must…but don’t count on it to magically make you a better runner with less risk of injury.