THE RESEARCH ON 'STRETCHING' One naturally assumes that the stretching of muscles and connective tissues (tendons and ligaments) prior to exercise would be the best way to prevent injury during said exercise, right? Well, not only is the research in this area inconclusive, but the data proving the exact opposite is mounting. A one-year study of 1543 athletes who ran in the Honolulu Marathon, found only 33% of male runners who did not stretch were hurt, while a striking 47% of male runners who stretched regularly were injured (Lally D, 1994.). Even when the research accounted for the fact that the strongest predictor of a future injury is a past injury, and excluded runners who took up stretching after a previous injury, stretchers who did not run any more miles than the non-stretchers still had a 33% greater risk of injury. However, this study also found that stretching after workouts reduced the risk of injury. This led to the conclusion that stretching should occur when muscles are thoroughly warmed, in order to be considered a protective measure.
In a similar study (van Mechelen W, Hlobil H, Kemper HCG , et al., 1993) 159 runners who were instructed how to warm up, cool down and stretch effectively were compared to a control group of 167 similar runners who received no instruction. The injury rates of the two groups were identical suggesting that the stretching instructions produced no protective benefit. Still other research has determined stretching may be beneficial. A study of military recruits who performed a series of static stretches before and after training were compared to a control group which did not stretch at all (Amoko et al, 2003). Although there was no difference in the rate of bone or joint injuries, the stretching group returned a significantly lower rate of muscle-related injuries.
In their review of this literature, Thacker et al (2004) stated that "There is not sufficient evidence to endorse or discontinue routine stretching before or after exercise to prevent injury among competitive or recreational athletes. Further research, especially well-conducted randomized controlled trials, is urgently needed to determine the proper role of stretching in sports."
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