To Stretch or Not to Stretch? That is the question.
The nature of running, the high loads that it puts through the body's joints and soft tissues, puts the runner at a higher risk of injury problems in knees, shins, thighs and the ankles. These sorts of injuries are usually due to overloading, (i.e. increasing the frequency, intensity of duration) too rapidly. Overloading is exceeding the capacity of the tissues being stressed (muscles, tendons, ligaments and bone) to adapt effectively. This invariably leads to injury if it continues. Other factors like strength, general health and previous history of injury will also be significant factors.
So how do you prevent these sort of injuries? Many people believe that stretching is one intervention that can help. However research over the years has indicated that it has no impact, either in the long or short term, for endurance runners.
Stretching has also been thought to help with delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS). This typically happens after new faster efforts have been performed in running or when lifting heavier weights. However, again, there is no evidence that stretching reduces either the discomfort or length of time of DOMS after exhaustive exercise.
In the case of the overload athlete, an active warm-up helps running performance but the benefit of such a warmup in the prevention of injury is still unclear.
'What is an active warmup?' I hear you ask. One example might be a 5-10 minute walk/jog at the start of the exercise. Some running drills if the session is going to be faster followed by walking lunges, skips, (forwards and backwards and sideways) all help to fire up the muscles of the legs in preparation for work. Finally 3 or 4 100m efforts at the intended session pace. The aim of all this is to mimic the work the muscles are going to preform in the session. This actually goes for all warmups, whatever the sport.
There is no reason not to stretch after and between sessions. This will improve joint flexibility but there is no evidence that this benefits recovery, performance or even running economy.
Adapted from :
Alexander JLN, Barton CJ, Willy RW
Infographic running myth: static stretching reduces injury risk in runners
British Journal of Sports Medicine 2020;54:1058-1059.