How to Stretch Properly to Prevent Injury

Muscle injury is one the most presented injuries which is sustained by both professional level and recreational level athletes who perform regular sports and exercise activities. It is also the most frequently presented issue that requires treatment here at Bodyworks. It is widely regarded by both therapists and sports coaches that performing a warm up and cool down which includes a stretching protocol is an effective way to aid in reducing the risk of muscle injury. However it is often misunderstood which stretching techniques should be used in both the warm up and cool down to get the most effective results to prevent muscle injury. Hopefully the information presented in this piece can clear up some grey areas and help educate our patients on the best stretching methods to use before and after exercise.

A warm up prior to exercise is a method used to prepare the body for the upcoming activity and has many injury reducing benefits. Warm-ups are shown to have the best results for injury reduction when performed 15 minutes prior to the main exercise activity. For a warm up, Dynamic Stretching interventions should be included. Dynamic stretching is referred to as a series of movements where the movement is gradually increased to help increase the range of movement within muscle groups and within a joint,resulting in the muscles being dynamically stretched. By increasing the movements gradually many physiological effects within muscle groups occur, which include improving muscle temperature, improving blood and oxygen flow to working muscles, and improvement of muscle contraction quality. These physiological factors influence muscles to have more efficient control of movement action which in turn can reduce risk of injury as the muscle groups are working in a better condition than they would be prior to performing a warm up.

Performing a cool down is another widely regarded method to reduce the risk of muscle injury. A cool down includes a series of actions and stretches to bring down the heart rate after activity and to restore and maintain length in muscle groups used within the main activity. Static Stretching is an efficient method to use in a cool down to help to stretch off muscle groups that become fatigued and shortened as a result of exercise. Static stretching is a useful method to restore and maintain flexibility as it is an effective method to reduce musculo-tendon stiffness which aids in improving range of motion within muscle groups.

It is important as an athlete to understand where to include static stretching in your exercise routine. Although static stretching is a universally regarded method to reduce muscle stiffness and improve range of motion it can have negative effects if used as part of a warm up. In a study which focused on netball, a comparison was done using a warm up including static stretching and a warm up including dynamic stretching, the static stretching warm up reduced power output in the athletes when performing 20 meter sprints and vertical jump. Although both static stretching and dynamic stretching both help to improve range of motion, it is the physiological effects of a dynamic warm up that makes it a better stretching strategy to include in the warm up as it will promote better overall muscular control when performing the main exercise activity, in comparison to static stretching having better results in stretching shortened muscles and reducing muscle stiffness which is the result physical activity on the working muscle groups. The use of these methods appropriately will contribute to keeping the muscles in good health and aid in reducing the risk of muscle injury.

McMillian, D., Moore, J., Hatler, B. and Taylor, D. (2006). Dynamic vs. Static-Stretching Warm Up: The Effect on Power and Agility Performance. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 20(3), p.492.
Woods, K., Bishop, P. and Jones, E. (2007). Warm-Up and Stretching in the Prevention of Muscular Injury. Sports Medicine, 37(12), pp.1089-1099.
Young, W. and Behm, D. (2002). Should Static Stretching Be Used During a Warm-Up for Strength and Power Activities?. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 24(6), pp.33-37.