Chris Young Hamstring Injury

Over the course of two weeks from June to July, the Red Sox saw seven starters land on the injury report. Issues ranged from left fielder Chris Young’s strained right hamstring to relief pitcher Junichi Tazawa’s right should discomfort — plus tendinitis, sprains and a contusion mixed in, too. And while it’s never a good time for the injury bug to bite, at least the Sox have a winning record and the All-Star break as an opportunity to rest and recover. But as Julie Ruane, Nurse Practitioner in the Division of Sports Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, says: “Now’s the perfect time to get back to the basics, and that starts with stretching.”

So why’s it so important to stretch? “Stretching plays a vital role in maintaining physical health,” says Ruane. “A stretching regimen should be incorporated into every individual’s routine.”

Ruane explained that there’s a persistent misconception of stretching as an add-on to exercise, something you can simply skip if you’re pressed for time or not in the mood. But that’s simply not true. Not only is stretching important for injury prevention, it also helps to improve range of motion, flexibility, posture, and athletic performance.

“Focusing on flexibility can help to reduce risk for injury, decrease joint pains and improve function or performance,” says Ruane. “When a muscle group demonstrates good flexibility, it can reduce stress or tension on a corresponding joint. For example, increasing hamstring flexibility can decrease low back pain, whereas improving quadriceps flexibility can reduce pain in the knee.”

Like all aspects of a fitness routine, there’s a right and a wrong way to stretch. Research shows that static stretching — holding a stretch for more than 60 seconds — can negatively affect athletic performance. A more effective way of stretching is holding a pose for 30 seconds or less, focusing on major muscle groups, making stretches sport specific, and keeping up with a stretching routine.

“The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends stretching at least two to three days a week,” says Ruane. “A key point to keep in mind is that stretching should NOT be painful. It should feel more like a pulling sensation, and nothing stronger than a slight discomfort. It’s ideal to stretch each muscle group 3-5 times, holding each stretch anywhere from 10-30 seconds. Stretching a warm muscle is likely to be more successful. So it may be worth doing a short “warm-up” before performing any stretching exercises — a short walk, 5-10 mins of light jogging or cycling are some exercises to consider. Gentle stretching post-activity, as part of a cool down, can also offer some benefit, such as decreasing joint stiffness and reducing muscle soreness.”

Ruane adds that stretching won’t make you invincible. Make sure to know your limits and be mindful of chronic injuries and any sudden pain. It’s also important to talk to your healthcare provider or physical therapist to learn what types of stretching will work best for you.

As for the Red Sox, here’s hoping the second half of the season is healthier than the first. And as the dog days of summer inevitably give way to the cooler evenings of fall, let’s hope the 2016 season stretches out deep into October.