Contrary to popular wisdom, stretching before a run does not minimize the risk of injury. So says a new study presented by Daniel Pereles of Montgomery Orthopedics at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).
Almost 3000 healthy volunteers over the age of 13 who ran at least ten miles/week were divided into stretching and non-stretching groups. For three months, the runners in the stretching group followed a prescribed 3 to 5 minute stretching routine before each run. The runners in the non-stretching group did not stretch at all but simply started running. Any injury that prevented running for at least a week was recorded by self-evaluation.
About half the initial participants (1,398) completed the three-month regiment. These were divided into 600 stretchers and 798 non-stretchers. The injury rate was identical in both groups, at 16% of runners. In other words, for most people, stretching neither prevents nor causes injury.
In fact, the leading causes of running-related injuries are having had an injury within the previous four months and having a high body mass index. However, there was one subset of people for whom not stretching was problematic: the runners in the not-stretching group who normally did stretch. Those who changed their pre-run regiment from stretching to not stretching increased their injury rate by 40%.
What I get out of this is that if you are a runner and haven’t been stretching before each run, don’t start now. As a friend of mine once pointed out, it’s not as if our ancestors did a few calisthenics before chasing down that antelope. On the other hand, if you have been stretching, you’d better keep it up.