Is Stretching Actually Bad for You?

Several articles have been in the mainstream media recently declaring that stretching, and in particular static stretching, is not necessary or is even bad for you. Several recently published studies are cited that question the effectiveness of static stretching primarily prior to intense exercise. While the information from those studies is correct, how people/authors are applying that info is incorrect.

First of all, let me state what should be obvious: any exercise can be performed in an unsafe manner. Stretching, if performed correctly, is not only safe but is also necessary. All mammals stretch, especially after being stationary for a long time. Even though muscle physiology varies somewhat between mammals, for some reason there is an innate need to stretch. So please use proper perspective and stop saying that stretching is unsafe and unnecessary.

Dynamic stretching is the preferred stretching technique prior to activity—for all mammals. Dynamic stretching prepares muscles for activity through their available range. Static stretching is effective for reducing a muscle spasm or increasing the available/end range of movement. Static stretching (performed for a prolonged period of time) does temporarily decrease the strength of the muscle (for anywhere from a few seconds to 30 minutes). So unless you are performing a static stretch for a prolonged period of time (more than 20 seconds) just prior to engaging in intense exercise—-you are safe.

Warm-up routines usually start with static stretching because most people don’t stretch throughout the day. If people did stretch throughout the day (like most mammals), muscles wouldn’t tighten up and lose range, reducing the need to perform static stretches. But most people do not stretch very often, muscles do adaptively shorten, and will remain shortened unless stretched.

Stretching, both dynamic and static, is safe and necessary if performed correctly–like drinking water. People can drown from drinking water incorrectly, just as they can injure a muscle from stretching incorrectly. But neither are inherently dangerous. Perspective is important.

Gerry Van Dyke

Owner/Director, COAST Rehab PT, SCS, ATC

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