Ian Nicholas

Stretching for Runners

From a young age many of us have been taught that stretching prior to exercise helps prevent injury. However, with the ongoing debate about whether to stretch statically or dynamically, and before or after running, many runners are not sure on how to choose the best stretching strategy for optimal results and reduced injury.

As physiotherapists we are regularly asked questions such as:

Is it better to stretch before or after running?

Does stretching help reduce injury or pain?

Can stretching improve running performance? and

What is the best type of stretching?

It is apparent that stretching still causes plenty of confusion.

Common types of stretching.

The most commonly performed techniques can be broken down into static and dynamic stretches. (though there are many different variations of these.)

Static stretches are the type many will be familiar with from childhood sports; passive positions held for a period of time, usually twenty to thirty seconds, aiming to gradually lengthen the muscles. Typical examples are the sit and reach type stretches, such as the hamstring stretch.

As a physiotherapist I find that because these stretches can be boring, people often tend to rush through them reducing any potential effectiveness.

Dynamic stretches are a bit more complicated, involving stretching the muscles and joints whilst moving. In dynamic stretching the limbs are purposefully moved into a lengthened position, preferably one that is activity or sports specific. Examples include slow jogging on the spot while bringing the knees up the chest or kicking the heels to the backside, or a slow walking lunge.

Which should I choose and what does the research say?

Up to date research suggests that the common practice of static stretching before an athletic performance such as running may not be that useful in reducing overall injury rates. A study appearing in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sport  which analysed over 100 research papers published between 1966-2010 found that generally, static stretching before activity should be avoided as the only form of warm up. The researchers asserted that static stretching alone directly prior to exercise may have no additional benefit to injury prevention and may actually have a negative effect on maximal muscle strength and explosive performance.

Though other studies have found that static stretching may have a specific benefit to tendon and muscle injury only which may be of interest to runners, it is apparent that the best approach to take prior to running is an effective warm up session.

The warm up session should consist of a combination of low intensity aerobic activity for example a walk or very light jog (even on the spot) followed by dynamic (preferably activity specific) movements/stretching. The warm up is a crucial component of any exercise performance, especially prior to high demand activities such as sprinting and long distance running, and is important in preparing for optimal performance and reduced injury.

As the total investment of time should be similar regardless of whether a person chooses static or dynamic stretching, there are few excuses for missing a proper warm up.

Examples of dynamic stretches for running:

Some examples of dynamic stretching include walking lunges, walking bringing the knees up to chest or kicking heels to the backside and standing high kicks.

What you need to know:

• All dynamic movements should be performed slowly and with control through full available range of motion without jerky movements, over-stretching or pain.

• Each movement can be repeated a number of times for thirty seconds to one minute each as a rough guide.

• Individual programs will vary depending upon a persons requirements, as there are many more different options.

• Please see your physiotherapist of exercise physiologist to discuss your individual needs if you are unsure

Heels to backside


Knees to chest


Side to side lunges


High kicks


Walking lunges



Is there a place for static stretching anywhere?

It is generally accepted that improved flexibility can play a role in reducing injuries overall and for that reason static stretching can be used regularly as part of a healthy lifestyle or training plan at times other than directly before exercise. Read more.

It is encouraged to make an effort to stretch regularly as part of a healthy lifestyle to combat the physical demands of modern life and the negative stresses than we place on our bodies through, for example, long periods of sitting at work or using a computer. A stretching break can also provide a great escape from the hustle and bustle of life and to relax the mind, all potentially reducing the overall likelihood of injury when it comes time to perform.

This is general advice only so before getting started your physiotherapist can help you, whether you are a casual runner or an elite athlete to guide you specifically on what may be most suitable for your needs in formulating a stretching or exercise plan, or to help you address a specific complaint or injury.

Pain Triggers – Shoulder Rides




Most parents know kids can cause pain… literally. Lifting and carrying children can result in stress and strain on the parent’s body, back, shoulders and neck. The shoulder ride is a typical suspect. Despite being great fun for the child, it can quite literally be a pain in the neck for the parent as sometimes it is just quicker and easier to pick up a child when walking a long distance.

So how can a parent minimise the stress and strain on their own bodies?

  • If you absolutely insist on lifting a child up onto your shoulders, try having them stand on a higher (make sure it is safe!) surface such as a table, so that they are at the correct height. Remember its always much better to lift with your legs, rather than your back and this is no different
  • There are carrying devices on the market to assist in carrying children on the back or shoulders. These devices are potentially a safer option for the parent, and avoids the child needing to use a tight grip on the neck or head to hold on.
  • If carrying a baby or infant in the arms be conscious of alternating sides regularly to avoid overloading on one side only.
  • Limit the amount of time or the regularity of shoulder rides.
  • Know when to say no. Don’t attempt it if you are tired, or sore.
  • Know your limits. At some point in time your child will be simply too big to carry. Try and explain to them that it is no longer safe to keep carrying them.
  • Learn a few smart stretches to help keep you limber. Your friendly physiotherapist can guide you, or help you out if you’ve already suffered the effects before reading this advice.shoulder-rides


If you suffer from neck or back, it is best to commence neck treatment straight away.  Your physiotherapist has numerous tricks that can help to quickly relieve your neck pain and muscle spasm.

If you have had neck pain or stiffness for a month or more, your GP may be able to refer you to a physiotherapist in Sydney as long-term stiffness can be treated effectively at any time.

If you are not sure what to do, please contact Sydney Physio Solutions for advice or to make an appointment with one of our neck physiotherapists.

Ligament injury of the knee: When to see someone.

Imaknee injurygine this scenario: You are playing sport on the weekend when you step hard to change direction and your knee buckles underneath you, leaving a sharp searing pain in your knee.  You hobble off to the sideline and ice the knee straight away.  The next day you go and visit ED who send you for an XRAY which shows no broken bones.  Great you think, though its pretty swollen so yo plan to give it a week or two to settle before getting back to sport.  But the knee doesn’t feel right, maybe the pain doesn’t go away, maybe it feels unstable, something is definitely wrong. But what?

The above scenario is common to most physiotherapists, and highlights the need to seek a definite diagnosis as early as possible in a knee injury.  Most of the time a knee injury will be minor and not result in any significant ongoing problem but sometimes that is not the case.

Injuries to the knee

The knee is a large stable joint that is actually made up of two joints: the tibiofemoral and the patellafemoral components (three if we include the proximal tibiofibular joint.)  The stability of the joint is largely created by strong ligaments, large congruent articular surfaces and powerful muscles.  The stable structure of the knee allows it to perform its role whilst subject to large amounts of load during physical activity.  Accordingly, traumatic injury to the structures within the knee can lead to loss of stability and function.

the knee anatomy

Ligaments – There are 4 main structural ligaments of the knee that are usually considered during knee injury (remember though there are many more ligaments in and around the knee that have important functions and can get injured too)

  • Anterior cruciate ligament
  • Posterior cruciate ligament
  • Medial (or tibial) collateral ligament
  • Lateral (or Fibula) collateral ligament

These ligaments provide resistance to force in almost all directions and are injured when the force exceeds their capacity to respond.  For example, the medial collateral ligament is often injured by a force applied to the outside of the knee, forcing the knee open on the inside (a valgus force.)  Ligament injuries that are missed or poorly managed can result in:

  • Increased instability of the knee.
  • Ongoing pain.
  • Reduced function.
  • Risk of further injury including meniscal and cartilage injury.
  • Accelerated degeneration of the joint leading to osteoarthritis.

Meniscus and cartilage – The cartilage of the knee has a role in reducing friction and to act as a shock absorber within the knee.  It is particularly vulnerable to traumatic injuries, often in conjunction with ligamentous injuries.  Healing is variable and can be poor due to a number of factors including poor vascularisation (blood flow.)  Appropriate conservative management early can improve the chances of a good outcome.knee injury mechanicsSource: Anatomy & Physiology, Connexions Web site.  http://cnx.org/content/col11496/1.6/, Jun 19, 2013.

When to see someone 

Always!  It is always in your best interest to make an appointment for assessment by a practitioner who is experienced in diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal injuries as soon as practical after a knee injury.  Commonly used diagnostic tests including XRAY and ultrasound are often not adequate for diagnosing common knee injuries.  Clinical suspicion of a major knee injury can be followed by MRI imaging and referral to a specialist as necessary.  When an injury calls for conservative management, early diagnosis and correct treatment allows for improved management and outcomes.

Clinical example: Medial collateral ligament injury

MCL injury can be split into three grades:

  • Grade I – Involves a tear in a small proportion of ligament fibres
  • Grade II – Involves partial disruption to the ligament
  • Grade III –  Complete disruption to the ligament often resulting in instability of the knee and possible injury to other structures.

Whilst all are usually managed conservatively (with the exception of some grade III injuries) grade II-III injuries that are managed poorly can result in ongoing instability and pain in the knee.  Most Grade II and III injuries will be treated for a period of time in a range of motion brace that limits valgus stress to the knee, as well as physiotherapy intervention including swelling management, range of motion exercises, strengthening of the muscles of the core and lower limb, proprioception and walking and/or running retraining.  Recovery is dependent upon unloading and protecting the ligament while it heals, so early accurate diagnosis is crucial.  In the event that the knee remains unstable following immobilisation, surgery may be required.

So always see your physiotherapist or sports specialist after a knee injury.  They can help guide you on the path to recovery as soon as possible.