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The Informed Parent

Stretching Pays Off

by John H. Samson, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Jan. 06, 2003

Over the past years it has become clear to me that many minor, yet painful, sports injuries stem from inadequate stretching before a practice or contest. These injuries prevent athletes from attaining maximum performance due to pain or limited freedom of motion. They also can provoke players to perform under their potential because they are worried about injuring themselves further. This worry is present because they don’t know why the injury occurred and how to prevent it.

The way to prevent most of these minor injuries is to “stretch out” properly before exerting oneself. Many varsity-level coaches understand this and insist that their student athletes stretch adequately. Unfortunately, time is a precious commodity, and to save it, stretching sessions are shortened.

In the long run, this is being “penny-wise and pound-foolish.” The amount of practice and game time that players lose due to minor injuries is great. Thus, a few extra minutes at the start of each session may save hours of lost time for an important team member.

Here are some useful guidelines for stretching. The process can be broken into two periods:

  1. Warm-up
  2. Stretching exercises

The warm-up section precedes the stretching exercises and is used to warm the muscles to prepare them for the changes in tension and length they will be subjected to. A “cold” muscle is less stretchable, thus, more prone to tear injuries and does not react as quickly. To enhance the warming effect, always wear sweats during warm-ups and stretch periods. Every coach has a favorite warm-up routine. But if none is provided, I would suggest a light jog for five minutes or five minutes of jumping rope.

After this warm-up period, begin your stretching routine as outlined by your coach’s recommendations for exercises. Some basic rules must be remembered while doing the stretching maneuvers:

  1. Hold the position for 30 - 60 seconds.
  2. Assume the stretch position gently, and don’t bounce or jerk.
  3. The position should never provoke pain, only a feeling of tightness.
  4. Exercise both sides of your body.
  5. If you are short on time and can only stretch either before or after your sport activity, never skip the stretching before.

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