Does stretching decrease the risk of injury?
Historically, it has been generally accepted that stretching decreases the risk of injury. Accordingly, it is common practice for stretching exercises to be included in a warm-up session. In fact, it has been suggested that stretching is the most common routine recommended by sports coaches and sports medicine professionals (Witvrouw et al., 2004). This myth is based on the idea that pre-exercise stretching reduces the risk of injury through improvements in range of motion and blood flow, better proprioception and decreased stiffness in the muscle (Fredette, 2001).
The fact that authority figures (e.g., coaches and sports medicine doctors) have long advocated pre-exercise stretching for lowering injury risk is likely the reason it has been so widely accepted as standard practice. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, however, researchers began to more closely scrutinize the evidence supporting this practice. For example, a review of existing literature led one group of researchers to conclude that pre-exercise static stretching does not lower the risk of local muscle injury (Shrier, 1999).
Similarly, another group of scientists (Pope et al., 2000) reported no significant reductions in the incidence of lower-limb injuries in people who stretched before exercise compared to those who performed no stretching. More recently, Witvrouw and colleagues (2004) concluded that pre-exercise stretching has no beneficial effect on injury prevention for activities such as cycling, jogging and swimming. Finally, in a current review (McHugh and Cosgrave, 2010), the general consensus was that stretching in addition to aerobic warm-up does not affect the incidence of overuse injuries.
Clearly, the scientific literature of the past decade fails to support stretching before exercise as a successful strategy for injury prevention. Does this mean stretching has no impact on risk of injury? Absolutely not! In fact, it has been reported that stretching at other times, including postexercise and in the evening, can reduce injury risk.