Do I need to be stretching?
Should I be stretching? Am I stretching enough? Why do I need to stretch anyway?
These are questions that many people have asked themselves at one point or another and are questions that we get asked by patients often. If stretching is something you would like to know more about, then read on!
In general, stretching can be beneficial because it keeps your muscles flexible and long, strong and healthy. We need flexibility to be able to maintain full range of motion in our joints. Without any appropriate stretching at all our muscles can shorten, become tight, sore, and not work efficiently. This can increase your risk of muscle imbalances which can then increase your risk of muscle or joint injuries.
However, one stretch does not fit all!
For instance, a dancer or gymnast who needs a lot of range of motion will benefit from specific stretching, but too much stretching for a power lifter right before a session can compromise muscle performance. Research has shown that muscle performance can be compromised for up to one hour after a static stretch.
Sports that involve jumping or bouncing with high intensity stretch shortening cycles (such as football) require a musculotendinous unit that is compliant to enable storage and release of high amounts of elastic energy. Without this compliance, the energy demands can exceed the capacity of the muscle tendon unit and can lead to injury. Stretching has been shown to increase muscle tendon compliance, so it would be beneficial to these players.
On the other hand, sports that involve low intensity limited stretch shortening cycles (such as jogging or cycling) may not benefit from stretching. Most of the power generation in the muscle tendon unit is as a result from active muscle work that is directly transferred to the tendon. Stretching and thus increasing muscle compliance may not be desirable or beneficial. Strong evidence within the literature exists that stretching has no beneficial effect on injury prevention in these sports.
What happens to my muscles when I stretch?
The effects of stretching have been studied in depth and can be divided into viscoelastic effects and neural effects. To think of this practically you can think of muscle stiffness or muscle compliance and then the excitability of your nerves which decreases with a stretch.
How long do I need be stretching for?
This answer varies person to person. A dancer who needs a lot of flexibility will spend 25% of their training time stretching. A recreational athlete will only need to spend up to 5 minutes of stretching in a session.
A study by Ryan., et al 2008 showed that the effects of a 4-minute stretch were still apparent 10 minutes later and that this may be the minimal stretch duration required to provide prolonged effect of a static stretch.
Overall, to stretch or not to stretch is something that is decided on an individual basis depending on your sports/ hobbies/ goals. If you are interested in injury minimisation, our best advice is to book in with a Physiotherapist who can help put a plan in place to avoid unnecessary future injuries. For more information visit our website here.