Helene Langevin is a professor at Harvard Medical School and at The University of Vermont College of Medicine. She is also the director for the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine. Her lab has conducted a lot of interesting research on connective tissue. I’ve summarised some of the findings that relate to the effects of stretching on connective tissue (fascia).
Studies from her lab have shown that stretching had beneficial effects on chronic inflammation in rats. They noted increases in stride length, decreased pain and decreased macrophages (inflammatory cells). Both active and passive stretching were effective and had an effect on acute and chronic phases of inflammation. Stretching decreases pro-inflammatory mediators and increases pro-resolving mediators such as Resolvin, which is synthesised from omega-3 fatty acids.
A thicker thoracolumbar fascia has been identified in some people with low back pain. And the decreased mobility of the fascial layers is thought to stem from adhesions between the layers. Stretching can decrease connective tissue adhesions (fibrosis) by decreasing collagen formation.
Additionally, links have been found between chronic inflammation, fibrosis and cancer. In summary, stretching can have beneficial effects on inflammation, pain, function and even the predisposition to certain types of cancer!
Should passive (static) stretching form part of our pre-activity warm-up or not? Ever since I can remember I’ve had this discussion with colleagues, clients and training partners. People usually have a firm view on the subject and stick to it doggedly.
Over the last few years the evidence base has mounted; static stretching before exercise or sport decreases performance! It decreases strength, speed and power. In addition to that, its effect on injury prevention is still controversial. Does this mean that static stretching has no place in training, not at all, it can be performed at the end of the work-out as part of a cool-down or as a stand-alone session. Static stretching increases flexibility which can improve technique and performance and may decrease injury risk.
Dynamic stretching on the other hand, can be performed as part of the warm-up as it fulfills a lot of a warm-up’s requirements. The active movements help raise the heart rate, increase blood flow to the muscles, increase muscle temperature and pliability, improve coordination and stretch muscles and tendons.
In summary, perform dynamic stretches to warm-up and static stretches to cool-down. Simple!
Something I read with interest in the news this week. A large randomised controlled trial in the US has shown that both yoga and stretching can lead to better function and decreased symptoms from chronic low back pain. Although this was no surprise to me, it’s always good to have evidence to back up our practice…I believe they call it evidence based practice…
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