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Is Flexibility Overrated?

You have probably heard that stretching prevents sports injuries, and you might even tell your clients that. But is it true? Surprisingly little research validates the link between stretching and injury prevention, according to the Georgia Tech Sports Medicine & Performance Newsletter (August 2001).

A relatively obscure study conducted by A. W. Watson at the University of Limerick, Ireland found no relation between flexibility and sports injury. Watson investigated the causes of sports injuries over a two-year period among 122 contact sport athletes. He found that previous injuries, posture, ability to accelerate rapidly over 10 meters from a standing start, and the number of muscle and skeletal defects to be significant predictors of injuries. But he did not find any connection between flexibility and injury prevention. In fact, another study involving U.S. Army recruits found that basic training injuries occurred in both nonflexible and flexible recruits.

One theory for this lack of linkage between stretching and injury prevention, given by Atlanta physical therapist Brian Jennings, is that athletes learn to perform within the limits of their own ranges of motion. Len Kravitz, PhD, program coordinator of exercise science at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, agrees with that assessment. “Because of the difficulties of investigating flexibility’s relationship to injuries, this will always be somewhat of an ‘unknown,’” added Kravitz.

Though it is difficult to measure absence of injury, there may be more evidence that flexibility eases movement, enhances circulation and increases range of motion than prevents injuries.

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