The one stretch that all World Cup soccer players should do!
Hopefully, you’ve all been enjoying watching this year’s World Cup of soccer in Russia. One thing I’m sure you’ve noticed is some of the players diving around in pain. Now some of these are obviously attempts to draw a penalty and may not reflect any type of actual injury. However, with the new addition of video replay, there are far fewer of these flagrant dives. The legitimate injuries I’ve seen seem to be more commonly related to hamstring strains or hamstring cramping. This makes sense as this muscle is incredibly important for running. It actually is one of the few muscles to do two separate things. The hamstring extends your hip AND flexes your knee.
Most of the World Cup soccer players spend a lot of time doing what’s called a dynamic warm-up prior to the game. This involves doing several movements that simulate the sport they are about to play. Traditional “static” stretching, where you put the muscle into a stretch and hold it, has fallen out of favour as something to do as part of your warm-up. This is because static stretching has been shown to reduce performance when performed before explosive activities. However, the key here is the word explosive. As the length of a sport increases this effect diminishes. So, if you are a 100 m sprinter, yes, probably not a good idea to stretch before your race. However, for soccer players, it actually won’t hurt, and may help fend off those hamstring cramps. In fact, in a recent review, researchers found that static stretching within a warm-up that also includes dynamic activity after the static stretch reduces injury potential WITHOUT reducing performance (see the article here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26642915)
So, how does this relate back to my observation of soccer players pulling their hamstrings? Well, they should likely be doing some static stretching of them in their warm-up prior to playing… but guess what, so should just about everyone! Not just as part of your warm-up too. Not just for those of you who are athletes, I mean even those of you who may not be involved in sports of any type. Most people I see in my office with back pain, knee, or hip pain all suffer from one common problem… tight hamstrings. So, how do we fix this? Well, I have included a simple stretch below that I teach to many of my patients.
The hamstring stretch using a strap:
Put a yoga strap on your bedside table and first thing in the morning, before you even get out of bed, do this stretch for 20-30 seconds per side, alternating between sides for about 5 minutes total. Then, do the same thing for 5 minutes before you go to bed at night.
For a slight twist you can also try the following (note the subtle difference of the strap position in the arch of the foot)
By moving the strap from the arch of your foot to the ball of your foot you get more of a calf stretch, but be careful to not bring the leg up quite as high because if you do then it might create tension on your sciatic nerve.
Is there anyone who shouldn’t do these stretches?
Those with acute lower back pain should likely not start these until they consult with their physiotherapist. Also, if you have a significant ligament tear in your knee, or are extremely hypermobile you might also not want to engage in this. If you try these stretches and they feel sore then the safest bet is to discontinue them and consult with your physiotherapist.
Registered Physiotherapist, Co-Owner of Thrive Now Physiotherapy