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Runners: Is stretching a waste of time?! What can you do instead to prevent injury/pain/stiffness?

As a running physio the most common question I get asked by runners is what are the best stretches to to do prevent injury and reduce post-training pain and stiffness.

Running can hurt!

This is because most runners have stiffness, tightness, and pain in their muscles and joints and are therefore seeking ways to alleviate these symptoms. You would naturally think that stretching these structures might do the job.

Doesn’t stretching help?

Whilst stretches might provide some short-term relief, there is no indication that stretching actually prevents injury or even improves recovery. In fact, if you stretch too much then you may actually be causing yourself harm. For example, we know that in the case of some tendinopathies (previously known as tendinitis) stretches will make them worse – for example with hamstring tendinopathies (literally a pain in the bum.)

It could also be argued that if you do passive stretches to the point of gaining range of motion without building muscle strength within this range of motion, the resulting increase in ‘instability’ might create more shearing force, and shearing force is not great for structures like cartilage.

I would argue that the value in stretching may lie in the fact that static stretches if done properly, are a gentle, slow, mindful form of movement which is beneficial for improving proprioception and interoception – the connections between the brain and body, which is beneficial at least in improving our general wellbeing.

What are the best ways of enabling recovery?

Having said that, in a world where so many of us are time-poor, I would recommend prioritizing the things that we know make the biggest difference to recovery and injury prevention – eating well and sleeping well. I have written plenty of articles about this but this video is a good starting point: https://www.octopusclinic.com/video-what-can-you-do-to-help-your-body-recover/

How else can I prevent injury and pain?

Last but by no means least, the best way of preventing injury is not down to what you do after running, it is all about your running program:

  1. Building in small increments
  2. Strength and conditioning twice a week for 20-30 mins
  3. Optimizing your alignment and technique

Here is a video on the best exercises for runners which includes strength and conditioning, alignment and techinque exercises, and stretches. Let me know if you find it useful and what other videos you would like us to make.

Get in touch

Please get in touch with us if you would like an appointment to diagnose and treat your injury either virtually or face to face: reception@octopusclinic.com or call 02075838288.

Happy Running!

Lucy Macdonald

Chartered Physiotherapist

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