Whether stretching is necessary before and/or after exercise, is a controversial topic and many different athletes and healthcare professionals have different opinions on the topic of stretching. Not only do professionals have differing opinions, but the literature also has found and support different conclusions. For example, some researchers have found that stretching does not decrease the risk for injury during exercise when compared to athletes who routinely stretch before activity. However, some stretching, such as Ballistic Stretching has been found to cause injury. On-the-other-hand, there have also been studies that have found that stretching, especially Dynamic Stretching may reduce the risk of injury and increase muscle flexibility. The literature is unable to give a clear cut answer on whether or not stretching is necessary, because there are so many variables that play a role, such as the type of exercise, the patient, type of stretching, and if the stretch is being performed correctly.
There are 5 common types of stretching that athletes may do. Below is a short summary of each type of stretching with the benefits that the type of stretching attempts to provide.
1. Static Stretching: This type is one of the most common types of stretching that is added to an exercise program. Static means holding still. The athlete may bend to touch their toes and hold that position for 30 seconds in order to feel a pull on the muscles.
2. Passive Stretching: Static stretching can become a passive type of stretching by using an elastic band or a work out partner. For example, the elastic band or work out partner could stretch your leg back slowly and gently in order to get a stretch put on the leg muscles. Static and Passive Stretching is most commonly done at the end of an exercise program in order to prevent muscle soreness and spasms.
3. Ballistic Stretching: This type of stretching is usually discouraged by healthcare professionals for the average athlete, because it forces the muscles to stretch beyond its normal range of motion by having the athlete “bounce” into the stretch. This type of stretching is supposed to lead to an increase range of motion, but it is not a safe form of stretching and may lead to injury.
4. Dynamic Stretching: This type of stretching is similar to Ballistic Stretching; however, there is no bouncing involved. Rather, this stretching type uses movement that is exaggerated, but controlled in order to get a stretch. For example, swinging the arms in a circular motion or doing lunges. This type of stretching is usually done before exercise in order to decrease muscle tightness to increase flexibility, which may help to prevent injury during exercise.
5. Isometric Stretching: This type of stretching may provide increased joint range of motion, strengthen and increase flexibility of tendons. Similar to Passive Stretching, a work out partner is needed. For example, the partner will push down on the leg while you attempt to resist.
With the different types of stretching, should you add them to your exercise program?
The best way to answer this is if stretching helps your body have less muscle soreness or you feel it enhances your performance it is probably okay to add to your routine, but as always consult your doctor first on how to properly stretch.
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American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine