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Stretching The Truth On Stretching

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Anthony Carter of the Denver Nuggets stretching. (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

Anthony Carter of the Denver Nuggets stretching. (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

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Written by Dr. Dave Hnida CBS4 Medical Editor

If you work out, especially if you’re a runner, odds are you perform a nice little ritual of stretching before you get those legs pumping. But does loosening those joints really do you any good — especially when it comes to preventing injury?

A new study from the American Academy of Orthopedics gives a mixed blessing to stretching in terms of preventing injury.

To summarize: if you normally stretch, keep at it. If you don’t normally stretch, it may not do you any good to start — in fact, it may UP your chances of injury. Here’s the deal.

Researchers followed about 2,700 runners — average age a little over 39 — with a wide range of average mileage, some running a lot every week, some a little.

Those who stretched before every jog did not suffer more injuries than those who didn’t normally stretch. Those who didn’t normally stretch did not suffer more injuries than those who did stretch. But once runners changed their routines — non-stretchers became stretchers and vice-versa — injuries started sprouting up.

In essence, changing the routine is what led to more injuries.

This isn’t the first time research has shown those who stretch before sports really don’t seem to get any great benefit in terms of injury prevention, or for that matter, improved performance. Sounds like sports medicine heresy, doesn’t it?

But we’re realizing the most important thing isn’t what you do right before an activity, instead it may be stretching every day, whether you are working out or not. An overall improvement in flexibility may keep you from getting hurt — not the one minute “let-me-stretch-against-the-fence-before-I-play-softball” kind of deal. That may be a waste of time and an invitation to a pulled hammy.

So if you’re going to stretch, do it every day. And then, when you do exercise, make sure your muscles are nice and warm. (As in, let’s do a little jogging before really pushing it.) A warm muscle is a looser and happier muscle. The stretching, if you normally do it, may be psychological gravy.

Bottom line: if you’re a pre-exercise stretcher, you may not be necessarily helping yourself. Then again, stop stretching and you may risk hurting yourself. And if you aren’t a pre-workout stretcher, don’t fret about it.

Both groups, though, may want to turn into human pretzels every day — even on those days off — just for the overall benefits of flexibility. That’s what may help keep you on the road and away from the ice packs.

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