The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends stretching as part of a comprehensive exercise program. In their 2020 guidelines, they recommend that adults engage in flexibility exercise, such as stretching, at least two to three times per week for at least 60 seconds per stretch. They also recommend stretching each major muscle group at least once, and holding each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
There is some evidence to suggest that stretching before exercise can improve performance and reduce the risk of injury. A systematic review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2018 found that stretching before exercise can improve power and speed, as well as reduce the risk of muscle strains. However, the authors note that stretching before exercise may not be beneficial for activities that require a high degree of flexibility, such as gymnastics or dance.
On the other hand, stretching after exercise may be more effective for reducing muscle soreness and improving range of motion. A systematic review published in the Journal of Athletic Training in 2018 found that stretching after exercise can reduce muscle soreness, as well as improve range of motion in the short-term. However, the authors note that the long-term effects of stretching on muscle soreness and range of motion are not well understood.
Stretching may also be beneficial for certain conditions, such as fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition that affects the muscles and soft tissues. A systematic review published in the Journal of Physiotherapy in 2018 found that stretching can improve pain, function, and quality of life in people with fibromyalgia. Stretching may also be beneficial for certain conditions, such as lower back pain, knee osteoarthritis, and plantar fasciitis. A systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy found that stretching was effective in reducing pain and improving function in patients with knee osteoarthritis. Stretching may also be helpful for individuals with plantar fasciitis, a condition characterized by pain in the heel and bottom of the foot. A study published in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research found that a stretching program was effective in reducing pain and improving function in individuals with plantar fasciitis.
In conclusion, stretching is an important part of a comprehensive exercise program, and can be beneficial for improving flexibility, range of motion, and preventing injury. Stretching before exercise may improve performance and reduce the risk of injury, whereas stretching after exercise may be more effective for reducing muscle soreness and improving range of motion. Stretching may also be beneficial for certain conditions, however, more research is needed to understand the best methods for stretching and the long-term effects of stretching on muscle soreness and range of motion.
It's important to note that stretches should not cause pain, it should be comfortable and gradually increased. Wanting to find the best stretches for you? During a physiotherapy assessment, a physio can evaluate your range of motion, strength, and flexibility. Based on this assessment, they can develop an individualised stretching program that targets specific muscle groups and addresses any areas of restricted movement. They'll also teach you how to perform the stretches correctly and safely, demonstrating the correct technique and providing feedback. Want to get your stretching routine sorted? Book in with one of our amazing team here!