Q: My doctor told me that a lot of my problems with my hamstrings come from not stretching before soccer games. My team spends about five minutes stretching before the game after we do a little running. Is this enough?

A: Stretching has become a popular research topic in many professional journals. The two main questions that arise are: What type? And, how often? Hamstring tightness in competitive athletes is very common, and while many teams and individuals spend time completing stretches before a match, it is often not very beneficial.

First, and something your coach did right, is you need to warm up the muscles by jogging or doing some sort of continuous activity for about eight to 15 minutes. Second, I would suggest completing a series of sport-specific, or activity-specific, movements that “stretch” the muscles you are going to use, but do not over-stretch them by holding the movements for unnecessary amounts of time. Some professionals call this active stretching, and it is generally accepted as the better type of stretching prior to exercise.

Following this “active warm-up”, I would recommend no more than a couple of minutes to passively stretch (the more common stretch-and-hold method) to get smaller muscles groups that you may have missed with the active warm-up.
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Q: My daughter has been told by her coach that she “must wear” an ankle brace on both feet during volleyball despite the fact that she has never had any ankle problems. Should she follow the coach’s instructions, or will this hamper her ability to move?

A: The ankle brace acts as a guard against the typical plantar flexion/supination-type (foot rolled in) ankle sprain. But what many people do not realize is that the effectiveness of that brace has been tested in many clinical trials. Unfortunately, the results do not prove the ankle brace really does its job. What’s even worse, some of these studies show that long-term use of the brace will likely result in detrimental weakening of the ankle and instability. This, of course, is not a good situation and should be avoided if possible.

For the non-problematic ankle, I first would suggest not wearing the brace at all. If the coach/player still insists, try wearing it during games only. At the very least it may offer some psychological benefit and give the player confidence in playing near the net.

For the problematic ankle, try tape. A properly taped ankle by your team trainer or physical therapist has been clinically proven far more effective than any type of ankle brace. I would also suggest talking with your trainer or therapist and adding 5-10 minutes worth of simple ankle strengthening and stabilization exercises that could prevent any future problem.

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