Background: Many people stretch before or after (or both) engaging in athletic activity. Usually the purpose is to reduce risk of injury, reduce soreness after exercise, or enhance athletic performance.
Objectives: The aim of this review was to determine effects of stretching before or after exercise on the development of post-exercise muscle soreness.
Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Bone, Joint and Muscle Trauma Group Specialised Register (to April 2006), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (The Cochrane Library 2006, Issue 2), MEDLINE (1966 to May 2006), EMBASE (1988 to May 2006), CINAHL (1982 to May 2006), SPORTDiscus (1949 to May 2006), PEDro (to May 2006) and reference lists of articles.
Selection criteria: Eligible studies were randomised or quasi-randomised studies of any pre-or post-exercise stretching technique designed to prevent or treat delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), provided the stretching was conducted soon before or soon after exercise. To be eligible studies must have assessed muscle soreness or tenderness.
Data collection and analysis: Methodological quality of the studies was assessed using the Cochrane Bone, Joint and Muscle Trauma Group's methodological quality assessment tool. Estimates of effects of stretching were converted to a common 100-point scale. Outcomes were pooled in a fixed-effect meta-analysis.
Main results: Of the 10 included studies, nine were carried out in laboratory settings using standardised exercise protocols and one involved post-exercise stretching in footballers. All participants were young healthy adults. Three studies examined the effects of stretching before exercise and seven studies investigated the effects of stretching after exercise. Two studies, both of stretching after exercise, involved repeated stretching sessions at intervals of greater than two hours. The duration of stretching applied in a single session ranged from 40 to 600 seconds. All studies were small (between 10 and 30 participants received the stretch condition) and of questionable quality. The effects of stretching reported in individual studies were very small and there was a high degree of consistency of results across studies. The pooled estimate showed that pre-exercise stretching reduced soreness one day after exercise by, on average, 0.5 points on a 100-point scale (95% CI -11.3 to 10.3; 3 studies). Post-exercise stretching reduced soreness one day after exercise by, on average, 1.0 points on a 100-point scale (95% CI -6.9 to 4.8; 4 studies). Similar effects were evident between half a day and three days after exercise.
Authors' conclusions: The evidence derived from mainly laboratory-based studies of stretching indicate that muscle stretching does not reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness in young healthy adults.