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Diligent stretching is an important way to prevent injuries, but it can also be the cause of injuries if done improperly. The goal of stretching is to lengthen muscle tissue to increase flexibility and lessen the risk of pulls and tears. However, there is a difference between gentle stretches that are beneficial, and hard, painful stretches that can cause pain. There are many runners who, in an attempt to prevent injuries, actually hurt themselves by overstretching.
The most common problem is when runners stretch while the muscle is still cold. By trying to lengthen muscles in a tightened state, there is a risk of of causing “micro” tears which can stop a training program in its tracks. Therefore, try to jog at least 3-5 minutes to warm the muscles before starting a stretching routine. Additionally, focus the majority of your stretching at the end of run when the muscles are warm.
It is important to distinguish between normal discomfort that is normal when stretching, and the sharp, acute pain that can be the sign of a muscle tearing. Once a runner senses acute pain when stretching, it is absolutely essential that he or she immediately back off. Muscle tears not only cause serious pain in the days following your stretching, but the healing process for a muscle tear can actually lead to a shortened muscle.