Hit the Ground Running: No Stretching Necessary
That five-minute stretching routine you do before your morning run really isn’t necessary. Stretching before a run does nothing to decrease the likelihood of injuries, according to a new report presented at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons’ annual meeting by researchers from George Washington University and the USA Track and Field Association (USATF).
Stretching prior to a run has long been practiced among amateur and professional runners alike. The sacred ritual is based on the long-held belief that by priming the muscles prior to running, injury can often be avoided. According to lead study author Dr. Daniel Pereles, director of sports medicine at Montgomery Orthopaedics in Kensington, Maryland, and an assistant clinical professor at George Washington University, the theory behind stretching prior to exercise is that it lengthens muscle fibers, enabling the body to absorb more shock and stress, as well as generate more force.
As a runner himself, Pereles decided to personally research the matter since previous studies regarding the impact of stretching before running on injuries have had mixed results. Regarding his findings, Pereles reported, “Over a period of three months, it did not make any difference if you stretched or didn’t stretch before a run.” He further noted, “If you switch your normal behavior, you increase your chances of injury, but we’re not sure why this is.”
For the analysis, Pereles and his colleagues went online to recruit 2,729 volunteers who were 13 years of age or older, and routinely ran at least 10 miles per week. The volunteers were divided into two groups. Over a three-month period, one group stretched their quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and Achilles tendons for 3 to 5 minutes just prior to each run they made, while the other group ran without stretching first. All other facets of the runners’ routines remained the same.
The participants were asked to report any injuries sustained that prevented them running for one week or longer. At the end of the three-month study period, an injury rate of 16 percent was recorded among both groups. About 1,400 of the runners completed the study and were included in the final results.
The likelihood of injuries was found to be greater among runners having a higher body mass index (BMI), as well as among those who had suffered recent or chronic injuries. In addition, older runners and those who ran more miles weekly had a greater chance of incurring injuries. The most common type of injuries reported during the study were sustained to the feet and ankles, followed by knee injuries.
A perplexing finding of the analysis was that runners who changed their routine either to include stretching prior to a run when they normally did not or vice versa were more likely to be injured after having made the change. Those who did not routinely stretch who began stretching increased their chance of injury by 22 percent, while runners who stopped stretching were 40 percent more likely to get injured.
Pereles concluded that although no benefit was seen among stretchers versus non-stretchers in the analysis, runners should adhere to what works best for them. He stated, “If it feels good for you to stretch before you run, then continue if you have the time. But if it doesn’t feel good, and you like to run and then stretch, or not stretch at all, then that’s fine too. I can’t tell anyone there is conclusive evidence that stretching makes a difference in injuries or performance.”
Whether you stretch or not, running is an excellent form of exercise that can help you to keep fit. If running is not for you, a brisk walk is also beneficial. Finding an exercise routine that fits your lifestyle is important to maintaining your health.