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Stretching Scientifically

By Brad Walker
Flexibility Expert
Updated: November 15, 2008
Without a doubt, the most common questions I'm asked is; "What's your view on the latest scientific studies and research findings in regards to stretching?"

The short answer is; "They all make for interesting reading, but I don't put a huge amount of confidence in them." Let me explain why.

Most of the studies I've reviewed attempt to determine the effects of stretching on injury prevention. This is a mistake in itself, and shows a lack of understanding as to how stretching is used as part of an injury prevention program.

Stretching, by itself, will not prevent injury. In fact, stretching can cause injury if certain precautions aren't taken.

Plus, it's not just a flexibility problem that can lead to injury. It could be a strength imbalance. It could be a stability or balance problem. It could be a proprioceptive imbalance. It could have to do with postural imbalances. It could have to do with physical imbalances like leg length differences. Or, it could simply be a matter of trying to do too much, too soon.
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Stretching is just one very important component that assists in reducing the risk of injury. The best results are achieved when stretching is used in combination with other injury reduction techniques.

Stretching and its effect on physical performance and injury prevention is something that just can't be measured scientifically. The effects of stretching are very hard to measure and all the studies that I have seen are nothing more than anecdotal studies. Meaning the results achieved, or not achieved, are simply that persons perception of what has improved or not improved.

You see, stretching is not a science. It is near impossible to PROVE anything about stretching, scientifically. Sure you can measure the effect of stretching on flexibility with simple tests like the "Site and Reach test" but then to determine how that affects athletic performance or injury susceptibility is near impossible. The only way to do it would be with muscle biopsy's, which can be extremely painful and lead to muscle damage if done repeatedly.

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