Healthwatch 16: Stretching for Runners and Other Athletes

PLAINS TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- If you're one of the hundreds of runners tackling the Scranton Half Marathon this weekend, or the inaugural Jim Thorpe Half Marathon at the end of the month, or any of the other races starting to pop up around the area, you already know how important stretching can be.

Geisinger wanted to share some quick stretches any athlete can do to help prevent injury.

If you're a runner or an athlete of any kind, a good stretching routine can do a lot for your body. Experts say stretching can help maintain or increase your flexibility and range of motion, help prevent injury, and in some cases, help alleviate soreness you may feel after pushing yourself to the limit.

Carl Wiedlich and Michele Smith, physical therapists at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Orthopaedics near Wilkes-Barre, wanted to share a few stretches athletes, and runners, in particular, can use after they've finished their workout or race.

"That's the best time to stretch when those muscles are warmed up and ready to go."

Because people who race are often outdoors, these suggestions are specifically stretches that can be done next to your car, or at a wall or a fence without having to lie down.

First a stretch for the calf.

"What Michelle is doing is keeping the back, or stretched leg straight, heel down, foot straight ahead, and when she feels the stretch, she holds it for 30 seconds, nice and easy."

Notice, she's not bouncing. Switch sides, and repeat two to three times per side.

Next, one for the quads, that muscle in front of the thigh.

"You don't necessarily need to get the heel to the bottom. People think you have to cram it all the way up there, but it's best to make sure that knee goes underneath as far as possible, and then you can approximate heel to bottom like that."

And finally for the hamstrings.

"Knee kind of straight, or even a slight bend perhaps, but you want to be somewhat straight. She's going to hinge forward until she feels the stretch right in the back of the leg."

These are muscles that will really take a beating in a marathon or a half marathon.

Muscle soreness and fatigue are expected but experts say if you're having significant pain after a workout routine or a race, it's best to get it checked out to be sure it's not an injury.