Studies show that elite football players suffer about 2 performance-limiting injury per year. Injuries imply days of training loss and reduction in training load in the following period; both result in a decline of physiological adaptations and performance.
Although injury incidence has been researched adequately, little is known about the risk factors in football players. A lack of muscle flexibility has long been considered as an important risk factor for injury occurrence in football players. Hence, stretching exercises are regularly recommended as part of football training. The mechanism by which stretching exercises can reduce muscle injuries is not clear yet. It seems that increased visco-elastic properties of a muscle can decrease the strain in a muscle and thus protect from an injury.
In reviewing recent literature in football players several conclusion can be made which are summarized below:
· Research conducted in football players suggests an association between stretching and/or increase flexibility and injury incidence reduction.
· Regular acute pre-exercise stretching practices seem not to protect from muscle injuries during the match.
· 4-5 sets of 60-90 sec of static or ballistic stretching seem to be a good practice. Based on the present studies, no recommendation can be made on the optimal long-term program.
· As mentioned above, there seems to be no difference between ballistic and static stretching in injury protection in football players at least when a single program is considered.
· Regarding long term training, it seems that ballistic stretching offers better protection from all injuries compared with static stretching.
· There is evidence that static stretching can reduce the incidence of musculotendinous and ligament sprain type injuries, but not overall injury rates.