For runners specifically, it's said that stretching after getting a few miles in is crucial for proper recovery. But is it? And if so, why? We reached out to Matthew Dobler, a Physician's Assistant and former Athletic Trainer at OrthoCarolina (as well as a former cross-country runner for UNCC), to find out what you really need to know about post-run recovery.
Is It Important to Stretch After Running?
"Stretching after running is helpful to your body in many ways. Primarily, stretching after running helps to decrease injury," said Dobler. "After your muscles have been warmed up by your run, they are more pliable. If stretched appropriately, your flexibility will improve, which will allow your joints to move through range of motion more fully with less effort."
Okay, so you could improve your flexibility and range of motion. Big deal. You're not trying to move into some advanced yoga poses right after you're finished with your running route, anyway. So, what does that really even mean for you?
"This improved motion decreases the risk of muscle strains and over use injuries such as tendonitis," Dobler explained. "It even increase your stride length, speed, and overall running efficiency! Stretching also helps prevent soreness and cramping after running."
Well, what if you choose not to stretch anyway? You could be putting your body at risk.
"Not stretching after a run can lead to tight muscles, which are more likely to be strained," Dobler said. "A runner who does not stretch is also more likely to suffer from post run soreness and cramping more than a runner who stretches routinely."
But If You've Been Running For A Long Time, This Doesn't Apply to You, Right?
"Runners of all ages, experience, and competitive level benefit from stretching after a run," said Dobler.
For runners who have never put focus on post-run stretches before, chances are that your hips and legs in particular are going to be incredibly tight. It's recommended that you speak to your doctor or another medical professional to determine what types of stretches will be safe for your body before you start trying to touch your toes.
How Long Is This Going To Take? And What Am I Supposed to Be Stretching?
Dobler recommends focusing on four major groups when stretching after a run: your quadriceps, hip flexors, hamstrings, and calf muscles. In fact, he says that the calf muscles in particular are important to isolate.
"People typically refer to stretching your calf as one simple stretch. In reality, the calf is made up of a handful of different muscles, most importantly the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The primary difference between these two major muscles of your lower leg is that the gastroc crosses the knee joint and the soleus does not. This fact means that they are stretched differently. The gastroc is stretched with the knee straight, the typical calf stretch that is well known," Dobler explained. "The soleus is stretched in a similar manner but with the knee slightly bent. Stretching both of these muscles correctly will help keep your Achilles healthy. Other areas of focus are the illiotibial bands, hip rotators such as piriformis and gluteus, and low back."
What If I Get Injured Anyway?
If you're experiencing an injury associated with running, find an OrthoCarolina location near you now to get the help you need, so you can stop being in pain and start running PRs again.