Should we use stretching as an intervention in our clinics? To answer this question, we first need to determine if stretching is an efficacious intervention. We have a decent amount of literature to demonstrate stretching is an effective treatment for improving mobility and reducing pain. If the intensity is great enough, we even see some hypertrophy.
Is stretching more effective than full range of motion resistance training for improving mobility? That hasn’t been decided yet, but at least we know stretching has an effect. It also brings us back to the original question. Should we use stretching in the clinics?
If you strictly prescribe stretching to improve mobility, it can likely be done as a HEP, rather than spending valuable minutes (the more effective protocols are typically 20–60-minute interventions) in the clinic performing a low-complexity activity that doesn’t require equipment.
This study looked at the addition of a simple rectus femoris stretching on pain, function, knee flexion range of motion, step length, and step speed in patients with knee OA. Three stretching sessions a week for four weeks resulted in significantly greater improvements in all measures except for knee extension for the rectus femoris group. Both groups received a battery of stretches and resistance exercises, with the rectus femoris stretching being the only difference.
Stretching is often dismissed as a low-value treatment and a waste of time. Just because something is easy to perform, does not mean it lacks value. I would not recommend spending much of your clinic time conducting stretches, but they could be a valuable addition to a HEP.