Good Stretch? Bad Stretch? Is Stretching Dangerous?
Learn how to decide which stretches are safe or unsafe for you.
by Brad Walker | First Published January 27, 2006 | Updated February 25, 2021
Some people have seen stretches on my website and emailed me (out of genuine concern) to say that this is a dangerous stretch because their coach, trainer or friend told them so.
So, is stretching dangerous?
First, a warning!
Stretching, just like any other form of exercise, can be extremely dangerous and harmful if performed incorrectly or recklessly. But the same can be said for any type of exercise or fitness activity.
So, are there only good stretches and bad stretches? Let’s put an end to the confusion once and for all…
There is no such thing as a good or bad stretch
Just as there are no good or bad exercises, there are no good or bad stretches; only what is appropriate for the specific requirements of the individual. So a stretch that is perfectly okay for me, may not be okay for you or someone else.
Let me give you an example. You wouldn’t ask someone with a shoulder injury to do push-ups or freestyle swimming, but that doesn’t mean that these are bad exercises. Now, consider the same scenario from a stretching point of view. You wouldn’t ask that same person to do shoulder stretches, would you? But that doesn’t mean that all shoulder stretches are bad.
The stretch itself isn’t good or bad, it’s the way it’s performed and who it’s performed on that makes it effective and safe, or ineffective and harmful. To place a particular stretch into a category of “Good” or “Bad” is foolish and potentially harmful. To label a stretch as “Good” gives people the impression that they can do that stretch whenever and however they want and it won’t cause them any problems.
The specific requirements of the individual are what’s important!
Remember, stretches are neither good nor bad. Just like a motor vehicle, it’s what you do with it that makes it good or bad. However, when choosing a stretch there are a number of precautions and “checks” you need to perform before giving that stretch the okay.
- Make a general review of the individual.
Are they healthy and physically active, or have they been leading a sedentary lifestyle for the past 5 years? Are they a professional athlete? Are they recovering from a serious injury? Do they have aches, pains or muscle and joint stiffness in any area of their body?
- Make a specific review of the area, or muscle group to be stretched.
Are the muscles healthy? Is there any damage to the joints, ligaments, tendons, etc.? Has the area been injured recently, or is it still recovering from an injury?
Transcript from video (click to open)
Emily: Awesome. And we have a question coming in the chat, Brad, are you okay if I put you on the spot a little bit?
Brad: Yeah, for sure.
Emily: I love your questions you all, thanks. I forgot to say in the beginning of this interview, please, we want your question. So, this is a great one Palmer is saying, and this is for so many of us. Palmer is saying, do you have a stretch for forearm or arm for that chronic mousing or chronic typing, etc. So, anything for the forms and the risks or the arms that you can show us real?
Brad: Yeah, for sure. I mean, there’s, you know, dozens of different stretches that we can do for the forearm, the wrists, the hands, the fingers, etc. There’s a couple of probably precautions that I should say before we start just sort of diving into stretchers you know, there’s no such thing as a one size fits all stretch. A lot of the times I get asked to create like a full body routine and I always steer away from that. Firstly, because of what I spoke about before with people having different tight spots and imbalances. So, for example, if you have an imbalance, a flexibility in balance somewhere in your body and we just stretch everything. So, say for example, you spend a lot of time at a computer and you’ve developed a little bit of a kyphosis.
Your shoulders are rounding forward. You know, your chest is contracting and that’s probably putting a lot of strain on your upper back. You probably feeling some pain in your upper back and neck. Now, if I just give you a full body routine that stretches sort of every muscle group equally, we’re never going to get rid of that imbalance. So, yes, we’ll make the shoulders and the chest a little bit more flexible as well. But if we’re stretching everything, we’re also going to make the upper back and neck a little bit more flexible as well. So, we’re never going to get rid of this imbalance. So, that’s sort of the first thing to take into account when you are looking at creating a flexibility program for you and just like if you were going to start going to the gym hopefully, you’d go and see your trainer.
They do a little bit of an assessment with you find out where your strengths and weaknesses are and then they put together a program that focuses on your weaknesses and they try and bring up your weaknesses to match your strengths until you get to the point where you’ve got fairly even strength throughout your body. Well, it’s exactly the same with flexibility, it’s really important to get some sort of assessment. So, someone can look at you and find out where your tight spots are and your imbalances are, and then you can work on those specifically. The other precaution I’d probably recommend for people is that if any stretch causes any pain, any tingling, any numbness, anything like that, then you need to back out of it straight away. So, that’s a precaution to always keep in mind.
A lot of times what happens is we have a lot of restrictions, not necessarily in the muscles themselves but we can have quite a lot of restrictions in the actual joint and the joint capsule. So, when we go to stretch the muscles, we’re actually putting even more stress and strain on those joint capsules. And a lot of times that can lead to that sort of pinching or numbness or tingling sort of feelings. So, we need to be aware of that. If you are experiencing that sort of stuff, then you may benefit from a little bit of mobilization and traction before you start doing your stretches and that’ll just help to sort of open up that joint capsule and you know, get a little bit more space in that joint to help you to stretch a little more effectively.
But getting back to our question in regards to stretches for the wrist and so forth look, there’s a couple of really good, basic stretches you can do. I’m going to show you a few simple flection and extension. So, simply holding your hand up and one hand right over the top of the other, make sure you grasping all your fingers there, getting a good grass there and just reaching down. Now in this position here what can be very helpful to just extend this stretch a little bit more is what I’m going to do is I’m going to try and push my wrist back up, but I’m going to use this hand to hold it down. So, my wrist isn’t going to move, I know you can’t see me there, but I’m pushing up against my hand.
So, I can just push up against my hand, hold that for about five or six seconds, relax. And then we can just move a little bit deeper into the stretch. And we can do that a couple of times, typically anywhere from sort of two to four times. And that’ll just help us to extend that stretch a little bit more. Now the opposite to that is just some extension. So, just opening up the hand, again try to get right over the top of those fingers maybe you put your elbow down on a bench or something and just use your hand to pull down this way. Let me just move down here a little bit and just pulling down on your hand this way and same again, if you just try and push up like this, push up with your hand, but hold it still push up for five or six seconds, relax and then let your hand go a little bit deeper.
And then again, just pushing up into your hand for five or six seconds, three, two, one, and relax. And you’ll just find that you can just extend that stretch a little bit further. So, that’s two really basic ones to start with, I’ll show you one more, which is like a rotational stretch, your forearm and wrist and this is a really good one. Warning here be careful doing this one. And this goes for all stretches, you want to move into the stretch very gently, very slowly, very gradually making sure you’re listening to your body, you’re getting feedback as to what you’re feeling. And as I said before any tingling or pins and needles or anything like that, you want to back out of the stretch shake the joint out a little bit, little bit of traction, just to loosen up that joint a little bit and then move back into the stretch.
If you still have problems with it, then avoid that stretch altogether. So, for our last re-stretch, what we’re going to do is we’re going to put our hands straight out in front and down like this. They’re going to take our other hand and we’re going to reach over the top of our wrist, we’re going to grab our fingers here and then we’re going to rotate like this. And this gets right through the forearm, right through the wrist, right into the hand as well. And from here, we can also do our little contraction technique. So, we can like go and pull on our hand back away and this hand is going to hold it and stop it from moving. So, it get to the point where we feel some good tension. We push away, contract away three, two, one, relax and just go with that little bit further. Like I said, if you do that two, three, four times, you’ll find that you can actually extend that stretch a little bit further than you normally could.
Emily: Awesome. Thank you, okay.
A few more precautions
If the muscle group being stretched isn’t 100% healthy avoid stretching this area altogether. Work on recovery and rehabilitation before moving onto specific stretching exercises. If however, the individual is healthy and the area to be stretched is free from injury, then apply the following to all stretches.
- Warm up prior to stretching.
Warming up prior to stretching does a number of beneficial things, but primarily its purpose is to prepare the body and mind for more strenuous activity. One of the ways it achieves this is by helping to increase the body’s core temperature while also increasing the body’s muscle temperature. By increasing muscle temperature you are helping to make the muscles loose, supple and pliable. This is essential to ensure the maximum benefit is gained from your stretching.
- Stretch gently and slowly. (Avoid bouncing)
Stretching slowly and gently helps to relax your muscles, which in turn makes stretching more pleasurable and beneficial. This will also help to avoid muscle tears and strains that can be caused by rapid, jerky movements.
- Stretch ONLY to the point of tension.
Stretching is NOT an activity that was meant to be painful; it should be pleasurable, relaxing and very beneficial. Although many people believe that to get the most from their stretching they need to be in constant pain. This is one of the greatest mistakes you can make when stretching.
- Breathe slowly and easily while stretching.
Many people unconsciously hold their breath while stretching. This causes tension in your muscles, which in turn makes it very difficult to stretch. To avoid this, remember to breathe slowly and deeply during your stretching. This helps to relax your muscles, promotes blood flow and increases the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles.
Let’s take a look at one of the most controversial stretches ever performed and see how the above would be applied.
Firstly, consider the person performing the stretch. Are they healthy, fit and physically active? If not, this isn’t a stretch they should be doing. Are they elderly, over weight and unfit? Are they young and still growing? Do they lead a sedentary lifestyle? If so, they should avoid this stretch!
This first consideration alone would most likely prohibit 25% of the population from doing this stretch.
Secondly, review the area to be stretched. This stretch obviously puts a large strain on the muscles of the hamstrings and lower back. So if your hamstrings or lower back aren’t 100% healthy, don’t do this stretch.
With the high occurrence of back pain among the population, this second consideration could easily rule out another 25%, which means this stretch is only suitable for about 50% of the population. Or, physically fit and healthy, injury free individuals.
Then apply the four precautions above and the physically fit and healthy, injury free individual can perform this stretch safely and effectively.
Remember, the stretch itself isn’t good or bad. It’s the way it’s performed and who it’s performed on that makes it effective and safe, or ineffective and harmful.
Listen to the Best Stretch, Better Stretch Audio
In this free audio presentation titled, Best Stretch, Better Stretch, you’ll learn how to decide whether a stretch is safe or unsafe for you. Plus, you’ll also learn how to choose the best stretches for your specific requirements.
To start listening to the Best Stretch, Better Stretch Audio click on the speaker image. To download the MP3, right click on the image and choose “Save Target As…”
Research and References
- Alter, M. (2004) Science of Flexibility, 3rd Edition (ISBN: 978-0736048989)
- Hotta, K. Behnke, B. Arjmandi, B. Ghosh, P. Chen, B. Brooks, R. Maraj, J. Elam, M. Maher, P. Kurien, D. Churchill, A. Sepulveda, J. Kabolowsky, M. Christou, D. Muller-Delp, J. (2007). Daily muscle stretching enhances blood flow, endothelial function, capillarity, vascular volume and connectivity in aged skeletal muscle. The Journal of Physiology, 596(10), 1903-1917.
- Kokkonen, J. Nelson, A. Eldredge, C. Winchester, J. (2007) Chronic Static Stretching Improves Exercise Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Volume 39 – Issue 10 – pp 1825-1831.
- Page, P. (2012) Current Concepts in Muscle Stretching for Exercise and Rehabilitation. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 7(1): 109–119.
- Sexton, P. Chambers, J. (2006) The Importance of Flexibility for Functional Range of Motion. International Journal of Athletic Therapy and Training, 11, 3, 13-17.
- Shellock, F, Prentice, W. (1985) Warming-up and stretching for improved physical performance and prevention of sports-related injuries. Sports Medicine, 2(4):267-78.
- Shrier, I. (2005) When and Whom to Stretch? Gauging the Benefits and Drawbacks for Individual Patients. The Physician and Sportsmedicine. 33(3):22-6.
- Walker, B. (2011). The Anatomy of Stretching, 2nd Edition (ISBN: 978-1583943717)
- Wikipedia contributors. (2019, October 27). Stretching, In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
About the Author: Brad Walker is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon (author page) has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 1,000's of verified customer reviews. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.
Disclaimer: The health and fitness information presented on this website is intended as an educational resource and is not intended as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult your physician or physical therapist before performing any of the exercises described on this website, particularly if you are pregnant, elderly or have any chronic or recurring muscle or joint pain.