Is Stretching always a good thing? Short answer …. No.
So what does the research say?
Flexibility is on a bell curve. You can have too much or too little, just like goldilocks in the popular childrens story! Stretching has to be “just right”.
The timing and type of stretching is pertinent:
There is very limited evidence for static stretching (that is, holding a stretch of a prolonged period of time) prior to exercising for the purpose of preventing injury.
There is even some evidence to suggest that static stretching can decrease power output when done before exercise.
The research also says that static stretching can reduce proprioception (part of our body’s balance system) in the short term.
Taking the above into consideration, static stretching before exercise is generally NOT recommended. So what is:
On the other hand, dynamic stretching (that is, moving through a stretch) has been shown to increase power and proprioception and may (limited evidence) have a role in reducing injury. There are some conditions where stretching is flat-out not appropriate.
Insertional tendinopathies – this can compress the affected tendon against underlying bone and further irritate the tendon.
Sensitised nerve tissue – nerves are non-elastic structures and when sensitised in conditions such as sciatica, stretching (along the path of the nerve) can aggravate symptoms further. There are other better evidence-based techniques to mobilise nerves and promote desensitisation.
There are also conditions where stretching may be suitable at certain times only. For example:
Strains and sprains – during the first 72 hours (the acute inflammatory phase) of a strain, stretching should be avoided to allow adequate healing. However, stretching is encouraged following this to reduce scar tissue and promote mobility.
Take home message
Stretching can be a powerful and effective tool when used appropriately. However, there are some conditions when it is not appropriate at all or it may only be appropriate during certain times of recovery. If you have questions regarding whether stretching is suitable for you, the best person to ask will always be your physiotherapist.