Sports Medicine - Stretching: Myths vs. Realities ׀ by John O'Halloran DPT, OCS, ATC, CSCS, Cert MDT


Dr. John W. O'Halloran, DPT, PT, OCS, ATC, CSCS, cert MDT, is a licensed Physical Therapist and Athletic Trainer with over 24 years of experience in the field of rehabilitation. He is a board certified orthopaedic clinical specialist by the American Physical Therapy Association. He earned his post-professional Doctor of Physical Therapy from Temple University. Currently, Dr. O'Halloran is a director of physical therapy/sports medicine at Southeastern Orthopedics in Greensboro, North Carolina, co-owner of GOSMC Properties, LLC and owner of O'Halloran Consulting, LLC in Summerfield, North Carolina. He has also worked in a variety of settings including universities and hospitals. Dr. O'Halloran is also a former orthopedic instructor at the physical therapy assistant program at Guilford Technical Community College in Greensboro, North Carolina. In 1999, he became credentialed with the McKenzie Institute in the mechanical diagnosis and treatment of the spine. Dr. O'Halloran is also a certified functional capacity evaluator in the Blankenship Method. His unique evaluation and treatment skills make him a sought after clinical instructor for physical therapy and athletic training topics. He has spoken both locally and internationally on topics such as sports specific rehabilitation of the shoulder, spine rehabilitation and treatment of foot and ankle injuries. Dr. O'Halloran has studied orthopedic and sports therapy abroad in Australia and New Zealand. His post graduate work has included manipulative therapy. His wide range of clinical experience combined with his extensive knowledge in the fiscal management of physical therapy outpatient rehabilitation services make him a very knowledgeable and skilled instructor. For a complete listing of upcoming courses for John O’Halloran, click here.

Stretching: Myths vs. Realities


A very common and acceptable pre exercise or athletic event activity is stretching. Stretching has long been widely recognized as a necessity for fitness, flexibility and above all injury prevention. However over the last couple of years this popular activity has been questioned on whether it really does indeed prevent injury. In 2004 The Centers of Disease Control (CDC) reported that static stretching does not prevent injury. Now as a licensed Physical Therapist and Certified Athletic Trainer I have been telling my patients for years that stretching “prevents” injury. And then the CDC came out with that one and I thought about all the inaccurate advice I had been promoting over the years. Well like anything else you have to not believe everything you read until you critically evaluated the information. After I read the CDC’s review of the literature it was concluded that STATIC STRETCHING did not prevent injury in most populations. It did show that it did prevent injury in older folks and young athletes who require extreme ranges of motion such as ballet or dance. But for the average Joe or Jane who goes out and runs 10-15 miles per week and does a little static calf or quadriceps stretching you cannot state that those stretches will PREVENT injury. Bottom line with all of this is that static (no bouncing) stretching held for 15-20 seconds for 3 repetitions is not going to hurt you but it is not going to prevent injury or improve athletic performance.

The reason being is that sports and weekend warrior activities are performed in a dynamic fashion. The muscles, tendons and joints are pulled through many different single and multi-planar movements with varying degrees of contraction types. Injuries such as hamstring or achilles strains are the result of that muscle or tendon not being able to control the violent lengthening or stretch required of the activity. The key component here is control. Control requires balance and the ability of that muscle or tendon to be trained to lengthen (mobility) while having adequate stability.

One of the most neglected areas to train in rehabilitation or fitness routines is balance and controlled mobility activities. Most of our traditional exercise equipments and stretching routines are performed in one plane of movement. Examples of this are traditional cardiovascular machines like treadmills, stair steppers, and stationary bikes. Examples of single plane stretches are your typical toe touch hamstring or wall calf stretches. The problem with this is that movements of activities of daily living and sports are multi-planar and multi contractions. So if you only stretch statically and then do a multi plane activity then yes I can see how the CDC concluded that STATIC stretching does not prevent injury. Remember that not many activities are static and isometric.

Recommendations for injury prevention & performance enhancement
1. Warm-up your body first by a light jog or stationary bike 5-7 minutes
2. Perform some gentle conventional stretching- may perform stretches that you are currently doing
3. Incorporate multi-planar and add a little more dynamic stretching to your routine moving your muscles and joints through the ranges of motion that are required of your sport or activity- 2-3 sets 20-30 seconds



Last revised: January 4, 2009
John O'Halloran DPT, OCS, ATC, CSCS, Cert MDT

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