August 2017

Stretching For Athletes
 
Ingrained into the psyche of many athletes is the belief that engaging in a structured stretching program is a beneficial method to decrease pain, reduce rates of injuries, and increase physical performance.  Usually such little thought is given to the statement, "you need to stretch more" that the advice is never questioned.  Researchers decided to question this logic and what they found was surprising (1). 
 

Research suggests that stretching before and after activity has little or no effect on injury prevention, increased athletic performance, or post-exercise muscle soreness.  Non-traumatic, repetitive use injury prevention is accomplished primarily through optimal movement patterns which is a combination of factors to include:

•  Balanced strength - optimal strength ratios

•  Optimal joint mobility - normal ranges of motion of the joint

•  Optimal soft tissue pliability - healthy functionality of muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joint capsules

•  Proper rest and recovery - positive adaptation to training to prevent overtraining

The question, "Why am I so tight?" should be more accurately replaced with, "Why is this range of motion restricted?".  

•  Protective tension - a condition where muscles will reflexively spasm in an effort to protect itself from injury.  The body will go to great lengths to protect an entrapped nerve or to protect a dysfunctional joint.  This type of tightness can be reflexively stretched and range of motion temporarily improved, but the tightness will return as the body again attempts to stabilize and protect a dysfunction.  A common protective tension seen in runners is chronic hamstring tightness due to an entrapment of the sciatic nerve or a dysfunctional/degenerated hip joint.  Unfortunately, the body cannot distinguish between the tension felt during a normal stretch and a reflexive protective tension.  Both will feel the same when stretched.   

•  Decreased mechanical lengthening - chronic tension and reduced range of motion may also result from a decreased ability to lengthen the soft tissue structures due to scar tissue adhesions within the muscle or between layers of muscles.  Over time, activities that are linear and repetitive in nature such as running often result in non-traumatic, repetitive overuse injuries.  Ranges of motion may decrease due to the repetitive stress that causes micro-tears in muscles, ligaments, and tendons.  The scar tissue that forms at the injury site is less elastic and more fibrotic than normal tissue and causes muscles to gradually lose their ability to lengthen.  This restricts the muscles normal flexibility and extensibility.  

To make long-term improvements in the flexibility of the tissues and mobility of the joints the health of the soft tissues must first be  assessed and addressed.  Healthy tissue will not "feel" tight and will have the capacity to properly lengthen, strengthen, and stabilize.  Clinically, Active Release Techniques® (ART) can break down the restrictive scar tissue and restore the integrity of individual muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerve mobility.  Individual, at-home soft tissue maintenance can include foam rolling or the use of an implement such as The Stick®.  After the health of the tissues are restored a flexibility and mobility program will be most effective.
 
 
1.  Shrier, I. (2004) Does stretching improve performance?: A systematic and critical review of the literature.  Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 14 (5), 267-273. 
 
Active Performance Chiropractic focuses on the diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of athletic-related injuries. Treatment is a unique blend of Active Release Techniques, traditional chiropractic therapy, and physical rehabilitation designed to match each patient’s goals and lifestyle.