Stretching and exercise alongside your treatment is it even necessary?

Undoubtedly if you’ve been treated for a muscular injury, you’ve been shown some form of exercise or stretch to do at home, daily. It seems so simple that many people subconsciously put it on their ‘low priority’ list and sheepishly confess their lack of compliance at their next appointment. After all, it doesn’t really make that much of a difference – does it?

Without a shadow of a doubt, stretches and exercises DO make a significant difference to your rate of recovery, your long-term outcome AND your chance of re-injury in the future. Here are the facts:

  • An injury will initially hinder joint/muscle function while swelling is present
  • Joint inactivity can increase the rate of scar tissue formation
  • Inactivity causes the loss of flexibility, which movement restores
  • Inactive muscles will decrease in size, strength and start to break down after 24 hours of immobilisation
  • Stretching reduces muscle tension, increases circulation, increases muscle and tendon length and restores the range of motion to a joint so you can move optimally
  • Each week you refrain from exercise takes 2 weeks to regain the same movement and strength
  • Stretching and exercises strengthen and stabilise muscles and joints which reduces your risk of re-injury

Overall, excessive immobilisation following injury can and does have a significant detrimental effect on your muscles and joints. However, you CAN minimise and reverse these effects by taking control of your recovery by ensuring to stretch and exercise effectively as guided by your practitioner. Because every injury is different and requires a tailored approach to exercise which can vary from person to person, we understand some confusion still exists in this field so we thought we’d answer a few common questions patients tend to have:

My injury hasn’t completely healed yet. Shouldn’t I wait quite a while before thinking about exercises?

While movement should be limited during the early acute inflammatory phase immediately after an injury has occurred, it’s a common misconception that the area should completely immobilised throughout the entire healing process. There’s a distinct difference between activity that will cause further injury to an initially vulnerable area and movement that’s an essential part of the healing process to give you the best outcomes. After the pain and swelling lessens, we start by introducing  pain-free movement to which resistance is applied and  increased over time as strength is regained. If you wait until your injury is completely resolved then it may take you twice as long to regain the strength and movement you had before the injury occurred.

I’ve been given exercises for muscles that aren’t directly in the area on my injury or pain. Can I skip those ones – they don’t look like they’re specifically for me?

Nope – unless you want to prolong your recovery time that is. Your body is a large network of connected muscles and tissues and deficiencies or changes to one muscle group can significantly impact the rest of the muscles through your body. The muscles you will be working will be helping you get back to your optimal function. You will never be shown an exercise for injury rehabilitation that isn’t clinically proven and backed by evidence to help you get the best results in the shortest time frame.

My injury is completely better now but I’ve been told to keep stretching. Will that actually do anything for me now that I’m better?

If you’ve been given exercises after your symptoms have resolved, it’ll be because your practitioner has identified an underlying problem that may have caused or contributed to your injury in the first place. For example, tight calf muscles can cause the foot to lift up early when you walk and so place greater pressure for a longer time on your plantar fascia. Repeated increased pressure over 10,000 steps per day, 7 days per week, can cause damage to the fascia – and the pain and irritation that goes with it. You can treat the plantar fascia and reduce the pain and irritation, but if you don’t stretch your calves, there’s a good chance it’ll happen again. Your post-recovery stretches will be given to you to reduce your chance of re-injury and help you function at your best, so it’s important to continue with them for as long as your practitioner has recommended.

At Physio Connect it’s not just about treating your current symptoms, but doing everything we can so it doesn’t happen again in the future and you can get on with doing the things you love. That’s why we have an integrated healthcare system that gives you expert input across multiple professions to give you the best clinical outcomes in one comprehensive rehabilitation plan.

If you’re suffering from an injury and want the best care, give us a call today on 0800 111 788 – and better yet we are FREE under ACC!

Page, P. (2012). Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 7, 109-119.


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Here at Physio Connect, everything that we do is built off the belief that all New Zealanders should have equal access to expert, specialised musculoskeletal services that utilise the latest clinical evidence and treatment protocols.


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