Will Stretching Prevent Injury?
Nothing is so certain that doing it will absolutely guarantee prevention of an injury; stretching is no different. However, that is not to say that stretching is worthless; quite the contrary!
While stretching will not prevent an injury, doing it as part of a warm-up program does reduce the risk of an injury by promoting increased blood flow to the muscles, and an increase in range of motion and flexibility in the joints stretched. And that is the true value of stretching.
Pre-workout warm-up program
There are five basic types of stretching. In the warm-up phase, dynamic stretching is the best one to use prior to a workout. Start a warm-up program by doing a few minutes of aerobic activity using muscles you will be using during your workout. That warms up your core and increases your breathing rate. Don’t be surprised if you even sweat a little.
Now you are ready for some dynamic stretching. This type of stretching focuses on moving the muscles that you will use during your workout through their range of motion in a fluid movement. In other words, the muscles are not held in their fully stretched position for any length of time other than for 2 or 3 seconds.
Working them through their range of motion increases blood flow to the muscles and tendons, so that the shock of working out is reduced.
Post-workout cool-down program
After exercising, your heart, blood flow and breathing rate are still at a high level. Cooling down, helps all of them come down slowly to their pre-warm-up levels. Without a cool-down, some people may experience dizziness or even nausea after stopping their workout.
Start your cool-down by doing some gentle exercise for 3 to 5 minutes using the same muscles you worked during your workout. For example, if your workout was running, then do some jogging or even walking as a cool-down exercise.
Next do 5 to 10 minutes of static stretching of the muscles used by holding each of them in their extended position for 30 to 60 seconds each. Do not bounce them. Gently stretch and hold, then release.
During a workout, muscles suffer small micro tears and create waste like lactic acid. While circulating blood flow takes this waste out of the muscles while exercising, abruptly stopping creates a build-up with nowhere to go. This built-up causes swelling in the micro tears and the result is soreness in the muscles worked a day or two after, known as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) or post exercise soreness.
By doing a cool-down exercise, some of that waste gets carried out of the muscle which in turn reduces micro tear swelling. Because the activity level is reduced, very little additional wastes or micro tears are being generated which reduces muscle soreness.
Stretching is not a preventative measure against injury, but it is an effective strategy to reduce the risk when associated with a warm-up and cool-down programs as part of an overall workout routine.