Can Stretching Prevent Running Injuries?

Karen McNew McGuire's picture
By Karen McNew McGuire on February 17, 2017

Fact Check: Stretching is not necessary before running.

False.

Many of us are looking forward to the days of comfortable walking or running outside. Often runners debate whether it is necessary to stretch before running. Some runners always do and others don't think it helps.  If you are a seasoned runner or just training for your first 5K we have some advice that may help you get the most out of those runs.

According to Mark E. Kasmer, M.D., a Carilion Clinic sports medicine specialist, it is about more than a few simple stretches. 

"For years, stretching prior to running was standard practice for injury prevention and performance; however, scientific literature is divided on the beneficial effects of stretching before exercise,” he explained. “In terms of injury prevention, overall flexibility can reduce risk of overuse injuries such as patellofemoral pain syndrome or IT band syndrome. There is also some evidence, although not unanimous, that stretching prior to running decreases risk of muscle strains, but not overuse injuries.”

Dr. Kasmer added that it is important to remember that there are different forms of stretching. 

“In terms of running performance, static stretching may reduce overall muscle performance, if not followed by dynamic exercises,” he said. 

Static stretching is used to stretch muscles while the body is at rest and dynamic exercises incorporate joint movement while warming up muscles in the body. Therefore, to really benefit your running and your body, you need to do both static and dynamic stretches. 

Dr. Kasmer recommends incorporating stretching as part of your weekly routine.

1. Stretch two to three days per week.
2. Perform four to five 60-second static stretches of targeted muscles, such as quadriceps, hamstrings and IT band. 
3. Follow up your static stretches with dynamic pre-participation running drills, such as high knees, lunges, skips, butt kicks and/or short 50-meter runs of increasing speed.