It makes no difference whether or not you stretch before a run, because stretching won't affect your risk of injury, researchers say.
In a study presented this week at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, pre-run stretching neither prevented nor increased injuries when compared to not stretching.
"There is a lot of controversy about this. Some insist you need to stretch, others say you don't, and every time I tried to assess a study on this I found that the authors were extrapolating the results from gymnasts or wrestlers or soccer players or other sprinting or short distance athletes, and nothing was related to running," says Dr Daniel Pereles, from George Washington University, Washington DC.
Question: "I just wanted to know whether stretching before going for a run would be beneficial for recreational runners like myself."
Answer: To answer that question, Dr Pereles and his colleagues conducted a prospective, randomised trial involving 2,729 volunteers they recruited online. All were at least 13 years old and all usually ran at least 10 miles per week.
For three months, runners in the stretch group stretched their quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and Achilles tendons for 3 to 5 minutes immediately before a run. Those in the non-stretch group ran in their usual fashion. The runners kept all other aspects of their routine the same.
They self-reported any injuries, which were defined as any condition that prevented running for at least one week.
As it turned out, injury rates were 16% in both groups. The most significant risk factors for injury were a history of chronic injury or recent injury in the past four months, and a higher body mass index.
What's more, the volunteer runners in the study found that starting - or abandoning - a pre-run stretching regimen was more hazardous than just sticking with a usual routine.
Stretchers who were randomised to the no stretch group had a 40% increased risk of injury, and non-stretchers who were randomised to the stretch group had a 30% increased injury risk.
The most common injuries were groin pulls, foot and ankle injuries, and knee injuries. There was no significant difference in injury rates between the runners who stretched and those who did not for any specific injury location or diagnosis.
"It's kind of wacky. I don't really know what to make of that," Dr Pereles said. "You get used to your routine and if you change it, you're more likely to get injured. And the rate of injury was quite high overall, one in every six people, so running is a pretty tough sport." (Reuters Health/ February 2011)
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