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20 years of writing about stretching

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

I have now rebooted one of my oldest and most successful articles, Quite a Stretch: Stretching science has shown that this extremely popular form of exercise has almost no measurable benefits. I added or expanded several sub-topics to really round it out and make it feel more complete, most notably:

Mistakes were made, and they were made by me

Any major content renovation like this will expose some embarrassing shortcomings and errors. There was nothing too awful, but what I had published about flexibility for years stood out as simplistic to the point of being misleading. Even though I had correctly identified “tolerance” as an extremely important idea about how flexibility works, I explained it poorly, and contrasted it with an extremely simplistic interpretation of the alternatives. This has now been rectified.

”I think we’re a book now” 🎶

Sing that to the tune of Tiffany’s “I think we’re alone now.”

My stretching “article” now weighs in at a whopping 34,000 words, which gives it a dubious distinction: it’s the first PainSci article to match the length of the shortest PainSci book (about muscle strains). Henceforth and forthwith, I will call it a “book,” with my tongue in my cheek. It is certainly a monster of an article, at the least.

A demonstration of “pandiculation.”

Stretch way back

Pieces of this article date back to the early 2000s and my earliest attempts at debunking. As I recall — who really knows with the brain, but this is the memory — I came to my skepticism about stretching honestly.

I started out trying to cite studies that supported stretching advice I was giving to my massage therapy clients, and to the students in my morning stretching classes on the beach. Having been a taijiquan and qigong practitioner for years, I had come to think that dynamic stretching was the way to go, and so I had a very conventional bias against mere static stretching, but I was otherwise bias in favour of stretching.

Only I kept finding evidence that pointed away from stretching. Oops.

As with essentially every topic I have ever written about, I am amazed at how I continue to learn. After 20 years of regularly dipping into the stretching science, I can still find myself reading some paper and saying, "Hey now, I did not know that. How did I not know that?"

In mosts cases, probably because no one did until recently. We all still have a great deal to learn about how the body works.

Re-read it … again?

Infinitely updated content is one of the most appreciated features of PainScience, but once folks have read a mighty article like this, they surely feel like they have been there, done that and I suspect very few ever actually return — even if the article has been thoroughly rebooted. (Maybe two or three times.)

If you have never read it, now's a good time.

If you have read it before, you can cherry pick the new content: clicking on the date under the title will jump down to a list of updates at the bottom of the page, with links to the updated sections.

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