Have you ever wondered about stretching? For example, is it important to stretch before or after you exercise? Does it help reduce delayed onset muscle soreness? What is the best way to improve flexibility? How often should I stretch?

The answers to these questions were provided by the Physiotherapy Association of British Columbia’s (PABC) practice forum. Alison Hoens, BC’s Physical Therapy Knowledge Broker, helped to compile the following research findings:

In regards to a running population, there was no evidence to suggest stretching reduces lower limb injuries (Yeung, Yueng, and Gillespie, 2011 Cochrane Rev).

A static pre-exercise stretch held for more than 60 seconds was found to be detrimental to maximum strength, muscle force and endurance (Can J Appl Physio, 2001, 261-72).

A short duration or dynamic pre-exercise stretch can be used without muscle performance compromise (Kay & Blazevitch, 2012. Med Sci Sports & Ex).

The shorter, dynamic pre-exercise stretches (i.e. drills, plyometrics), promoted better agility testing scores in comparison to static stretching, or no stretching (Van Gelder & Bartz, 2011).

The American College of Sports Medicine guidelines recommends to stretch at least 3 days a week (ACSM, 2011).

There is no evidence that stretching before or after exercise reduces delayed onset muscle soreness (Herbert & de Noronha, 2011 Cochrane Rev).

The best way to permanently lengthen connective tissue structures is by warming them up with light to moderate aerobic exercise.  Muscle warming can also be performed with a heating pad or hot bath (ACSM, 2011).  Following this warming a low-intensity stretch, held for a prolonged period of time (at least 20 seconds) is found to be most effective.