Stretching has many beneficial qualities but if you are doing it to prevent later muscle soreness, it probably isn't working, a team of Cochrane Researchers has found.

Many people stretch before starting to exercise, and some stretch again at the end of a period of exertion. The aim may be to prevent injury, to promote higher performance, or to limit the chances of feeling stiff in the days after the exercise.

Two researchers set out to assess whether stretching could reduce stiffness. They identified 10 relevant trials, each of which involved between 10 and 30 people. Nine of the studies had been carried out in laboratory situations and stretching varied from between 40 seconds and 10 minutes.

The researchers used a 100-point scale to assess stiffness after exercise. They concluded that the estimated effects of stretching were extremely small, with most estimates showing that stretching reduced soreness by less than 1 point on the 100-point scale. The size of the effect was similar if stretching was performed before or after activity.

“The data were remarkably consistent,” says lead researcher Robert Herbert from the School of Physiotherapy at the University of Sydney, Australia, “The available evidence suggests that stretching before or after exercise does not prevent muscle soreness in young healthy adults.”

The researchers do, however, believe that there is a need to see whether stretching can have an effect on people in the community who have reduced levels of flexibility.

Article: Herbert RD, de Noronha M. "Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise", Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 3. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004577.pub2.