The role of flexibility in injury prevention and athletic performance: have we stretched the truth?

Minn Med. 2003 May;86(5):58-61.

Abstract

The use of stretching to prevent injury, off-set muscle soreness, and improve performance has been widely accepted and promoted in sports. However, little or no scientific evidence supports the practice, and recent research suggests that stretching, which increases flexibility beyond that needed for sport-specific movements, may cause injury. This article presents studies that have looked at the effects of stretching on injury and performance. Many earlier studies that showed benefits of stretching did not look at the effects of stretching alone; they also involved general cardiovascular workouts in the experimental but not control groups. More recent research shows that general fitness, rather than stretching, is a more important risk factor in injury prevention. This article also discusses studies of the relationship between joint laxity and injury and the role that stiffness may play in enhancing performance and preventing injury. Overall, the evidence suggests that increasing range of motion beyond function through stretching is not beneficial and can actually cause injury and decrease performance. These findings should be used to challenge common warm-up practices in athletics.

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Injuries / etiology
  • Athletic Injuries / physiopathology
  • Athletic Injuries / prevention & control*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Exercise*
  • Humans
  • Joint Instability / physiopathology
  • Muscle Cramp / etiology
  • Muscle Cramp / physiopathology
  • Muscle Cramp / prevention & control
  • Physical Fitness / physiology
  • Pliability
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology
  • Risk Factors