Flexibility and its effects on sports injury and performance

Sports Med. 1997 Nov;24(5):289-99. doi: 10.2165/00007256-199724050-00001.


Flexibility measures can be static [end of ROM (range of motion)], dynamic-passive (stiffness/compliance) or dynamic-active (muscle contracted, stiffness/compliance). Dynamic measures of flexibility are less dependent on patient discomfort and are more objective. Acute and chronic changes in flexibility are likely to occur with stretching exercises, but it is difficult to distinguish between changes in stretch tolerance as opposed to changes in muscle stiffness. How flexibility is measured impacts these findings. There is no scientifically based prescription for flexibility training and no conclusive statements can be made about the relationship of flexibility to athletic injury. The literature reports opposing findings from different samples, frequently does not distinguish between strain, sprain and overuse injury, and rarely uses the proper denominator of exposure. There is basic scientific evidence to suggest that active warm-up may be protective against muscle strain injury but clinical research is equivocal on this point. Typically, specific flexibility patterns are associated with specific sports and even positions within sports. The relationship of flexibility to athletic performance is likely to be sport-dependent. Decreased flexibility has been associated with increased in-line running and walking economy. Increased stiffness may be associated with increased isometric and concentric force generation, and muscle energy storage may be best manifested by closely matching muscle stiffness to the frequency of movement in stretch-shorten type contractions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Injuries / etiology*
  • Athletic Injuries / physiopathology
  • Athletic Injuries / prevention & control
  • Elasticity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle Relaxation / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Pliability*
  • Range of Motion, Articular
  • Sports / physiology*