The title of this post may confuse you and you may be asking, 'What has changed with stretching?' (To bypass my ramblings, scroll to the bullet points at the bottom).
That is a GREAT question! It seems that about every year or two, we change our opinion on stretching. Should we do it? Should we not do it? When? Where? How? After a while it all gets very confusing and we fall back on the ol', 'Well, if that works for you, then keep doing it' mentality.
Personally, and it comes as no surprise to those who know or have worked with me, that i'm a big proponent for foam rolling. I find it simple, effective, and a little safer when we are working with tendon and myotendinous injuries. But today, we are going to discuss some good, old fashioned stretching....and yes, there is still new research coming out about stretching.
Let's backtrack a little here and explain. Research has gone back and forth on whether stretching is beneficial to health, sports performance, avoiding injury...and just life in general. Over the last decade, we have found out that stretching (the static type you did in gym class) decreases immediate athletic performance, is not the best way to prevent injury, and does not lengthen, or change the structural makeup of our muscles. (Thanks research!)
However, if your goal is to become more flexible...or you NEED to be more flexible, this new article from the International Journal of Sports Medicine has you covered. In this article, they not only point out what is the best way to achieve long-term flexibility, but how long and how often you should do it!
While I have shared my ‘distaste’ for static stretching with many (especially for injury prevention/relief of posterior chain muscles...a later post), I have generally based that opinion on experience and what we know about its lack of injury prevention and the decrease in performance it causes if performed directly before an event. I still hold firmly my love of foam rolling and a more dynamic warm-up before any athletic event, but adding in some additional stretching, if flexibility is your need, may just be that extra bump to help you reach your goals.
So what does the article say?
Before we get to that, what if flexibility is not your issue? Often, we will work with patients who state they are ‘tight’, but they have a range of motion that is off the charts. I wish I had a megaphone for this….Stretching will not fix these issues, this is a stability problem. If this is you, get a proper work up and some clinical direction on improving your condition, it will most likely involve more strength and stability exercise.
Now, back to the article. Here is what they have to say.
For best results in long-term flexibility:
Static stretching > Dynamic Stretching
Stretches should be held for 30-60 seconds, holding for 1-2 minutes showed no additional value.
Consistency is Key - 5 days per week for 4 weeks showed the best results.
Weekly total time 5-10 min. More than 10 min provided no additional benefit and less than 5 min provided little benefit at all.
There is a lot of good here. Many of us feel pressed for time, don’t know what to do or how to do it, and could come up with another dozen excuses! Take 2 minutes before bed, Monday through Friday, and give your problem area a little extra attention.
Dr. Reheisse is a Board Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician practicing in Cottonwood Heights Utah. Revive Sport & Spine provides evidence-supported chiropractic care and conservative sports injury management.