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How to prevent sports injuries through warm-ups and proper stretching
Studies on stretching have conflicting evidence. This article addresses some of the best ways to prevent injury. - photo by Steve Davis
Does stretching reduce sports injuries? This question is a hot topic with much debate and conflicting evidence. I will present a few studies and then make my recommendation based on experience. I have run four marathons and countless other long distance races and have some insight on this topic. I am also a chiropractor and treat many sports-related injuries.

USA Track & Field, the national governing body for track and field, long-distance running and race walking in the United States, published a study in 2010 involving 1398 runners over a three-month period. There were two groups, one that stretched before running and the other that didnt, and they compared the injury rates. The published results stated, Those people who completed the study and complied with their group had the same risk of injury (16 percent) regardless of which group they were in. Overall, stretching did not provide protection against injury.

This is an interesting statement that makes you believe that stretching is not beneficial. However, if you read the study there is a very interesting finding. Among those who generally stretch but were assigned to the non-stretch group had an injury rate of 22.3 percent compared to those in the same group who normally didnt stretch before running who only had a injury rate of 11.8 percent. There seem to be other factors involved here that could not be differentiated between the groups. Possibly distance or intensity of the run. Possibly a psychological component.

Perhaps the solution to this problem is a combination of warm-up exercises and stretching. It is well-established that warming the muscles up before stretching will increase benefit. Motion stretching or dynamic stretching is a great way to stretch and will also increase strength, according to this study.

I believe the best way to prevent injury and increase flexibility is a combination of warm-up, static stretching and dynamic stretching. I will outline a pre-workout routine that should reduce risk of injury. It shouldnt matter if you are just going for a run or getting ready for a basketball, soccer or even a football practice. This warm-up routine is of value.

This entire routine should be done while wearing good warm-up clothing. It is important to keep the muscles warm while you stretch. Especially during the dynamic stretches I will recommend. Performing ballistic movements without warming up and keeping warm could result in an injury.

First start with a slow mile run to warm-up your muscles.

Second begin with static stretching. Each stretch should be held for 30 seconds. I would recommend stretching calves (stretch with knee locked and then with them bend), groin, hamstring, quads, hip flexors, lower back, neck and shoulders.

Finally use a dynamic stretching routine. Since this is a lesser known way to stretch I will focus more on this concept.

  1. Alternating toe touches: While standing with legs shoulder width apart, take your right hand toward your left foot while maintaining straight legs, then reach left hand toward right foot in a continuous motion, not as a holding stretch.

  2. Leg swings: Stand sideways next to something you can hold onto like a wall or a pole. Swing your outside leg forward and back trying to increase the range of motion with each swing.

  3. Twisting lunges: While doing lunges add trunk rotation. Do this is a slow and controlled manner. Making sure to stretch well your torso.

  4. High Kick: While walking forward bring your knee up toward your chest and then kick your leg out pointing your toes toward the ceiling. This is a great hamstring stretch.

  5. Butt Kicks: Kick you backside with your heels as fast as you can while only moving forward at a slow jog pace. This is a great quad stretch.

  6. High Knees: Quickly bring your knees up so your thighs are parallel to the ground. The forward progress of this running motion should be slow and controlled.

After following this quick warm-up and stretching routine, you can remove your warm-up clothing and start your workout, practice or game. This should reduce your risk of injury more than just static stretching alone while increasing flexibility and strength with the dynamic stretching exercises.
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