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The Latest Research on Stretching

As a physical therapist, one of the most common questions I get asked is, "Does stretching really make a difference?" The answer is yes. Stretching does have its benefits. Today, I want to share what we know about stretching and how it can improve flexibility, reduce joint pain, and potentially decrease injury risk.

Does Stretching Improve Your Flexibility?

First and foremost, stretching is excellent for improving flexibility. Incorporating stretching exercises into your routine increases your overall range of motion (ROM). But what exactly happens when our ROM improves? Contrary to popular belief, there is no actual change in the muscle or tendon length. Instead, our tolerance to stretch improves. Our bodies become more accustomed to the sensation of stretching, allowing us to move through a greater range without discomfort.

How Much Should You Stretch?

The volume of stretching plays a role in the changes in flexibility. It has been observed that a greater volume of stretching produces more significant improvements in flexibility.

Recent studies have shed light on the importance of total weekly stretching time. It has been observed that a minimum duration of 5 minutes or more per week is necessary to induce noticeable changes in flexibility. To achieve this, a recommended stretching regimen would involve stretching 5 times per week, performing 2 sets of 30-second stretches for each muscle group. This approach ensures that the total weekly stretching time meets the threshold required to see positive results.

By adhering to this frequency and duration of stretching, individuals can optimize their flexibility gains. However, it is essential to note that individual responses to stretching may vary, and some people may require more or less of it to achieve their desired results and to meet the demands of their favorite activities or sports. Consulting with a physical therapist or exercise professional can provide personalized recommendations based on specific goals and needs.

Should Your Stretch Before or After Exercise?

Before Exercise

Stretching to warm up before exercise can be beneficial. Static stretching before a workout can be done safely if each stretch lasts between 30 and 60 seconds and is followed by dynamic movement. Dynamic movement involves active motions that mimic the activity you are about to perform. If you're short on time, other options, such as foam rolling and dynamic stretching, can be just as helpful in acutely improving your range of motion.

After Exercise

On the other hand, stretching after a workout has yet to be proven to enhance recovery. However, if it feels good to you, doing so has no adverse effects. It's a personal preference.

Does Stretching Reduce Your Risk of Injury?

Regarding injury risk, the relationship between stretching and the likelihood of injury remains controversial. Some activities require more range of motion, so consistent stretching may be necessary. However, studies have shown that strength training can be as effective as stretching to improve your range of motion and reduce your risk of injury.

Can Stretching Help to Reduce Joint Pain?

Studies have shown that stretching can help reduce joint pain. For individuals with non-specific lower back pain, stretching the quads and hip flexors three times a week for 20 minutes over eight weeks can increase pain-free range of motion and decrease pain and disability. Similarly, stretching exercises for the rectus femoris have shown benefits for pain management in individuals with knee osteoarthritis, especially when used alone.


In conclusion, while the relationship between stretching and various outcomes is still under investigation, some key takeaways exist. Stretching can improve flexibility by increasing the overall range of motion. The duration of each stretch and the number of repetitions needed for a change in flexibility is still uncertain. Stretching before exercise can be done safely if followed by dynamic movement, but stretching after a workout has not been proven to enhance recovery. The relationship between stretching and injury risk remains controversial. Still, it is reasonable to assume that an insufficient range of motion for certain activities may increase the risk of injury. Finally, stretching can be beneficial in reducing joint pain, particularly for individuals with lower back pain and knee osteoarthritis.



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