The Truth About Stretching

If you have been feeling stiffness associated with your lower back pain, neck pain or shoulder pain. You probably had the idea to stretch it to relieve the tension or the pain. Back in the day, I remember that stretching was mandatory. It was the cornerstone of every coach and health therapist. Read on to learn what the research reveals regarding stretching as a compulsory pre-exercise activity.

What are the misconceptions about stretching?

There are many questions that people ask about stretching, for example:

  • Should I stretch to relieve the muscle pain, nerve pain or use for pain management?
  • Is stretching good for warming up?
  • Should I stretch every day, every morning or every night?
  • Should I join yoga class to become more flexible?

I am writing this blog because stretching has been a subject of my research project.

Even my colleagues and I were surprised by what the scientific literature was saying about stretching. I hope this article will shine a new light on your ideas about stretching.

So, here’s the truth about stretching…

Let’s learn today what stretching achieves, as a technique, to avoid any confusion or misconceptions.

For many years, coaches, physical therapists, personal trainers, osteopaths, chiropractors and physiotherapists were giving stretching exercises to patients or athletes as part of their treatment plan, rehabilitation program or training preparation for the prevention of injuries.

With the evolution of scientific research over the years, our idea of stretching has evolved with further study.

HERE’S WHAT THE RECENT RESEARCH SAYS ABOUT STRETCHING:

  1. It seems that static stretching does not offer significant advantages to your activities in terms of recovery or performance [1, 2]
  2. It is believed now that you cannot stretch a muscle and the feeling of pain that you experience while stretching, might only be due to a sensory output (brain perception) rather than mechanical changes (changes in the structure of your muscle) [3-5]. In other words, you are not elongating your muscles at all.
  3. Chronic stretching before training might actually decrease your performance and negatively affect your tendons and muscles before doing your activities [6]

SO, WHY SHOULD WE STRETCH IF IT DOESN’T HELP RECOVERY AND PERFORMANCE?
Should you stop stretching or forget about it?

Of course not, but there is research that has found that some weight training at the gym produces exactly the same effects as what stretching is believed to achieve [7].

So basically, weight training can help you not only to become stronger but also more flexible. There are a lot of benefits about resistance training that goes beyond what you can imagine (and it impacts various areas including the immune system, hormones, brain, pain relief, natural anti-inflammatory, and so on).

LEARN MORE: What is Osteopathy? What are some common misconceptions about this profession?

PLEASE NOTE: THIS DOESN’T MEAN THAT STRETCHING IS USELESS AND YOU SHOULD STOP DOING IT.
But keep in mind that nothing will replace a good session at the gym and if you don’t want to lift weights, you need to know that a limited range of motion has been shown to be a potential element in injuries.

So, training your joints and muscles to move better and be stronger at a gym or boot camp will always be beneficial for you.

Always remember the following about stretching:

  • Stretching doesn’t prevent injury or improve performance [5,6], so it won’t help you to avoid neck pain, shoulder pain, back pain or leg pain.
  • Never stretch before a training session [5,6], we know that it has a negative effect on your tendons and muscles if done repetitively.
  • Never stretch a painful tendon. It has been shown over and over that people who have tendinopathies should avoid stretching as it is not long-term pain relief. It does the opposite; it generates more pain than anything else [6-8].

What if I still want to stretch before exercising… can I?

Now the question is if you are not going to the gym and just doing your activities (running/swimming/tennis and so on) and you want to stretch no matter what, remember:

Your warm-up should always be done with dynamic movement [9]🤸

Stretching may help with your joint mobility but do it at home as a relaxing session [10-12] ✅

Stretching is a tool and not a solution to your problem

Now you know what happens when you stretch. I wanted to share something with you:

I’ve seen online many “quick health schemes” about neck pain cure, shoulder pain relief, lower back pain solutions, hip pain relief, joint pain relief or muscle pain. And often stretching is still a prominent feature of those miraculous cures.

For example, chronic pain has complex mechanisms. Tendinopathies are not treated with stretching; performance isn’t enhanced by stretching and so on…

Stretching is a tool and not a solution to your problem.

If you are experiencing pain and you are looking for long term pain management plan, it will take you more than just stretching to help you with your condition.

That’s why I love Osteopathy – because it uses a holistic approach to understand your situation, find the cause of your problem and develop a management plan that fits your lifestyle and your needs.

Our approach really looks at all the internal and external factors affecting your health. We look at you as a whole system, including your body and environment. At the Mana Health Clinic, I work with my patients closely to give them the right support for their condition.

 

 

References:

1. Lauersen, J.B., D.M. Bertelsen, and L.B. Andersen, The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2014. 48(11): p. 871.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24100287/

2. Dupuy, O., et al., An Evidence-Based Approach for Choosing Post-exercise Recovery Techniques to Reduce Markers of Muscle Damage, Soreness, Fatigue, and Inflammation: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis. Frontiers in Physiology, 2018. 9(403).https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2018.00403/full

3. Weppler, C.H. and S.P. Magnusson, Increasing muscle extensibility: a matter of increasing length or modifying sensation? Phys Ther, 2010. 90(3): p. 438-49.https://academic.oup.com/ptj/article-lookup/doi/10.2522/ptj.20090012

4. Konrad, A. and M. Tilp, Increased range of motion after static stretching is not due to changes in muscle and tendon structures. Clinical biomechanics (Bristol, Avon), 2014. 29.https://www.clinbiomech.com/article/S0268-0033(14)00098-9/fulltext

5. Freitas, S.R., et al., Can chronic stretching change the muscle-tendon mechanical properties? A review. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 2018. 28(3): p. 794-806.https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/sms.12957

6. Cardoso, T.B., et al., Current trends in tendinopathy management. Best Practice & Research Clinical Rheumatology, 2019. 33(1): p. 122-140. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31431267/

7. Zhang, J. and J.H. Wang, Mechanobiological response of tendon stem cells: implications of tendon homeostasis and pathogenesis of tendinopathy. J Orthop Res, 2010. 28(5): p. 639-43. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19918904/

8. Barbosa, G.M., et al., Chronic Effects of Static and Dynamic Stretching on Hamstrings Eccentric Strength and Functional Performance: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Strength Cond Res, 2019. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/9000/Chronic_Effects_of_Static_and_Dynamic_Stretching.94938.aspx

9. O’Sullivan, K., S. McAuliffe, and N. Deburca, The effects of eccentric training on lower limb flexibility: a systematic review. Br J Sports Med, 2012. 46(12): p. 838-45. https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/46/12/838.long

10. Medeiros, D.M. and T.F. Martini, Chronic effect of different types of stretching on ankle dorsiflexion range of motion: Systematic review and meta-analysis. The Foot, 2018. 34: p. 28-35.https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0958259217301153?via%3Dihub

11. Medeiros, D.M., et al., Influence of static stretching on hamstring flexibility in healthy young adults: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Physiotherapy Theory and Practice, 2016. 32(6): p. 438-445.https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09593985.2016.1204401

12. Borges, M.O., et al., Comparison between static stretching and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation on hamstring flexibility: systematic review and meta-analysis. European Journal of Physiotherapy, 2018. 20(1): p. 12-19.https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/21679169.2017.1347708

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