Recently there has been a great deal of controversy over whether or not stretching before, after, or before and after a run will help to decrease the incidence of injury among runners. A study involving a large number of participants actually found that the leading cause for injury was a change in routine, and not whether or not the runner had a stretching routine. Therefore, while I recommend stretching as an important part of any exercise routine, changes to your old routine should be made gradually to help prevent injury.
Other indicators for increased risk of injury appeared to be the prevalence of a previous injury within the last 4 months and/or a high BMI (indicating a heavier body weight). So, if you have suffered from a recent injury it is very important to rehabilitate that injury fully before returning to regular physical activities. And if you are over weight, start at a lighter easier pace and gradually work your way up to a greater intensity and longer durations of physical activities.
There are two common forms of stretching, static stretching and dynamic stretching. Static stretching involves holding the stretch for a period of time. Dynamic stretching involves moving through a stretch. While current research is claiming that stretching is not showing any benefit in decreasing injuries, these studies have not been looking at dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching should only be done once the muscles are warm, so after a 5-10 min fast paced walk or slow jog. Dynamic stretches should be done in such a way so as to warm up the muscles you will be using for your physical activity in a manner similar to how they are used for that activity. You want to stretch and strengthen muscles in the same way you plan on stressing them. For runners, the stretches should mimic a run. Dynamic stretches warm up the muscles neurologically. There is a neurological limit for the length of each muscle. Dynamic stretches help push past that neurological barrier in a gentle easy gradual way, so as not to damage the muscle tissue as you do so. Dynamic stretches are meant to be done in small amplitude working your way up to larger amplitude. Try doing 1-2 sets of 10 reps for each muscle group you will be working during your physical activity.
Static stretches are still a good idea as part of your cool down. When the muscles are warm you are able to make the biggest difference in flexibility. Let your breathing and heart rate decrease somewhat before doing the static stretches and keep your head above your heart.
By Dr. Kimberley Macanuel, BSc(Hons), DC. For more information about chiropractic please visit http://chiropractor-in-toronto.ca or to schedule an appointment please call 416.481.0222 or email Maria at Maria@ForcesofNature.ca. You may also contact Dr. Macanuel directly at KMacanuelDC@ForcesofNature.ca