If this blog title is news to you, here’s a quick update on the science around stretching and its effects on range of motion.
A Quick Update on the Science around Stretching
The effects of stretching on range of motion
A 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis comparing strength training to stretching found no differences in their effect on range of motion.
A follow up paper by some of the researchers elaborated:
“The answer to the question “Can I stretch to improve ROM?” is Yes. But do I have to stretch to improve ROM? Possibly not, but more comparative research is required, and sports requiring extreme ROM should be considered separately.”
The effects of stretching on recovery
Both a Cochrane review (a type of rigorous and routinely updated Systematic Review) and a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis did not support stretching to aid recovery or lessen delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) in any clinically important way (as in, in a meaningful enough way that would be impactful to exercisers).
The effects of stretching on injury risk
From Afonso et. al’s 2021 Can I? vs. Do I have to? paper again:
“The answer to “Can I stretch?” is yes—it probably will not increase injury risk.
But the answer to “do I have to stretch?” is “possibly no”—as the likelihood of decreasing the injury risk is contentious.”
So why stretch at all?
We know from pain science that any movement makes bodies feel better and reduces pain.
If stretching is what gets you moving, it’s still good for you.
Arguably other modes of movement could be more productive (if we consider the need to maintain strength and muscle mass as we age, or improve or cardiorespiratory fitness and metabolic health), but movement in and of itself is beneficial in so many ways.
Even though there isn’t research proving that stretching reduces soreness, or that it meaningfully contributes to injury prevention , all of the caveats in the research say: Stretching probably doesn’t increase range more than any other kind of movement…
This assertion may not stand for activities that require supraphysiological ranges of motion.
What if my sport requires more range of motion than is “normal?”
Stretching may be a beneficial tool in the tool box to help you get there. “Use it or lose it” is true for many aspects of physiology, and if you want to get into extreme ranges of motion, you should practice getting there (safely, and, while still working on strength to support your joints!).
Do I need to stretch to be healthy?
You could probably go your whole life without stretching, but you still want to be moving in the ranges of motion that you need for activities of daily living, and moving into different positions than normal (because in general, bodies like consistency but also variety; they’re tricky beasts).
But there’s nothing wrong with stretching (safely) if it feels good to you!
Some of the reasons and ways I use stretching:
- I work with a lot of dancers who require more extreme ranges of motion. We use a combination of static, active, and dynamic stretching, as well as tools like Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) and neurodynamics (neural glides / tensioners).
- For many people, stretching just feels good. If it helps them calm down after a training session, I see no reason not to stretch.
- We know that regulating breathing plays a key role in recovery processes. I like to use gentle stretching as an opportunity to incorporate breathwork.
Drop me a comment below or get in touch and I’ll do my best to answer!