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Q&A: Should I Stretch Before I Run?

by Meaghan posted March 7, 2011

If you’re concerned about your running time, there’s an abundance of literature supporting an answer of NO.

But what if you just want to prevent injury?

I’m going to keep this brief because I still have about five pages left of a midterm paper to write (I’m very much looking forward to spring break!)… but there’s been increasing evidence in recent years that stretching doesn’t really reduce injury risk like we once thought.

Regarding pre-run stretching in particular, the literature is even less conclusive. But a new study (not yet published or peer-reviewed, which is actually quite important when interpreting the findings) suggests the answer may lie in your routine.

Dr. Daniel Pereles – an orthopaedic surgeon in Maryland and a runner himself – set out to determine whether or not he should be stretching before his runs.┬áHe assigned 2,729 runners who ran 10 or more miles a week to one of two groups: A pre-running stretch group or a non-stretching group. For some, the assigned protocol was a continuation of their regular routine; for others, it was a switch. Only 1,398 participants finished the study, and the overall injury rate (all injuries included) for both groups was 16%, with the greatest risk factors being chronic injuries and a high BMI. (BIGGEST LOSER TRAINERS: READ AGAIN!).

Here’s the interesting part: Runners who switched routines were more likely to be injured than those who continued the same habits – whether that habit was stretching or not.

Runners who stretched before the study and were assigned to the non-stretch group had a 23% increase in injuries, and runners who didn’t stretch before the study and were assigned to the stretching group saw a similar 22% increase.

Pereles can’t really explain this, but there is speculation that stretching somehow changes the running pattern and, in turn, boosts injury risk in those not accustomed to this change. Runners who normally stretch have adapted their gait accordingly, so not stretching produces a similar unfamiliar change that increases their risk of injury.

Bottom line: This may be one case where NOT changing your routine is actually best.

Then again, some would say you probably shouldn’t be running at all…

But that’s fuel for another fire!

Filed under: exercise Q&A, fitness-related injuries, stretching

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