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Stretching Won't Prevent Sore Muscles

Researchers Say Stretching Before or After Exercise Has Little or No Effect on Soreness

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Two experts who reviewed the study results for WebMD came to different conclusions.

"It makes perfect sense," says Michael Bracko, EdD, a consulting exercise physiologist in Calgary, Alberta, and a spokesman for the American College of Sports Medicine. He has long believed that stretching does not prevent soreness. "It's a really good review, and it's information we have known for some time."

Once the pain sets in, Bracko says, stretching might reduce the soreness temporarily if you stretch then. "But the painkilling effects only last 15-20 minutes," he says.

But another expert, Pedram Aslmand, DPM, a sports podiatrist in Long Beach, Calif., doesn't think the new review will end the debate on stretching and its effect on sore muscles. "It's difficult to control for the effects of stretching on soreness," he says. For instance, some of the study participants may have had structural abnormalities -- such as shortening of the calf muscles -- that resulted in soreness despite the stretching, skewing the results.

Advice: To Stretch or Not to Stretch?

While the benefits of stretching are debated, experts say that proper, gentle stretching may not do all that exercisers hope for, but it won't hurt. Aslmand believes stretching can also help prevent injury and also can improve performance.

Bracko found, in a recent review of studies, that those who stretch regularly may get some injury protection. For many athletes, he says, stretching has become more of a ritual than anything.

So if stretching won't quell those sore muscles, what might? "Do a little light exercise," Bracko suggests.

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