September 21st, 2012

Health N' Sports: Stretching

Staff Report

Health N' Sports: Stretching
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Louisville Orthopaedic Clinic talks about stretching

As a part of the Louisville Orthopaedic Clinic, the Sports Rehab Team physical therapists are knowledgeable and trained in the latest advancements and techniques available in sports rehabilitation. On a weekly basis, the Health N’ Sports Update will give information on prevention, recovery, and include special offers, as well as general health tips that would be beneficial to all. If there is a specific topic you’d like to know or hear more about, email future suggestions to

When and how should an athlete stretch?

As a Physical Therapist and runner, I am often asked by other runners if one should stretch before or after the run. As individuals and their sports vary so much, there is not just one clear answer to this question, but research has changed the common understanding that stretching prior to an activity will help prevent injuries.

The goal of any type of stretching is to increase blood flow and range of motion around a joint in order to improve the performance of that joint for a particular activity or sport.

Types of Stretching

There are two main types of stretching: static and dynamic. Static stretching is gradually taking a muscle to a lengthened position and then holding, usually anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes. Static stretches include the classic hamstring, calf, and quadriceps stretches that are commonly performed among athletes.

Dynamic stretching involves active muscle movements and momentum to stretch a muscle without holding the end position. Examples of dynamic stretches include walking lunges, heel and toe walking, and arm circles or “windmills”.

Stretching During Warm-up

Recent studies have shown that static stretching during a warm-up routine may not be beneficial to an athlete, though this has been the norm for years. Dynamic stretching is more functional and does not involve putting a prolonged stretch onto cold muscles. It has also been shown to improve flexibility, at least short term, in controlled studies whereas static stretching has not been shown to have such an effect. 

Stretching Prior to and Following Activity

Stretching prior to athletic endeavors has also not been proven to prevent injuries. There is likely a place for static stretching, however, for long term flexibility goals. Some research has suggested static stretching be performed after exercise, with caution not to over-stretch if exercise has been particularly vigorous or long.

This topic is still debated and the jury is still out on some aspects of stretching research. It is important to note that all training routines including warm-up need to be tailored to the sport and the individual’s needs. A long distance runner is going to require different training than a football player. To ensure injury prevention a combination of strengthening, balance work, and warm-ups/stretching should be included.  Your coach, trainer, or physical therapist can guide you towards the optimal program for you.

By: Lori Holt, P.T.

Louisville Orthopaedic Clinic & Sports Rehab Center

Main Office: 502-897-1794

Physical Therapy: 502-897-1790


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