Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation

by Dr. Phil on February 16, 2012

“To stretch or not to stretch.” That is the question…which continues to be asked by those who exercise, lead exercise programs, and perform research on exercise. Unfortunately, the answer is not so easy: “It depends.”

The reason is that there are many variables to consider with stretching intervention studies. Unfortunately, the media tends to generalize outcomes of stretching studies to anyone, which becomes easily misinterpreted. For example, a headline may read “Stretching can decrease performance.” Many would think this headline pertains to all types of stretching for anyone; however, closer review of the study would reveal that stretching immediately prior to vertical leap test may decrease performance of athletes for that particular test. Unfortunately, this only confuses us and leads to more questions.

The February 2011 issue of International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy published my review article on current concepts in stretching. The review included 60 clinical trials evaluating the effectiveness of different stretching techniques, outcomes and populations. The article used the classification system of stretching interventions in the chart below:

It’s important to point out that this was only a review article, and not a meta-analysis. In summarizing the outcomes of these clinical trials across different outcomes, populations, and techniques, it’s clear that the answer to the “To stretch or not to stretch” is again, “It Depends.”

  • To increase range of motion, any stretching technique is effective, but PNF-type stretching may be more effective for immediate gains
  • Static stretching decreases immediate performance; therefore dynamic stretching is indicated as part of the warm-up
  • Older adults should incorporate static stretching into a well-rounded exercise program
  • Patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain may benefit from stretching, while patients with joint contractures or neurological conditions may not benefit from stretching

REFERENCE: Page P. Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2012 Feb;7(1):109-19.


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