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Proper Stretching for Young Athletes 

Diverse kids stretching on the field

The Benefits Of Stretching 

Adults understand the importance of stretching before exercising to stave off the effects of aging, such as muscle tightness, while also maintaining flexibility and range of motion. Similarly, children benefit greatly from pre-activity stretching, whether it’s before sports, swimming, dancing, biking, or any other physical endeavor. While various theories exist regarding childhood stretching practices, it ultimately falls to parents to determine the most suitable approach for their child’s needs. Here are some key factors to weigh.

When To Stretch 

Stretching is essential for young athletes and should be integrated into their daily routine, especially before engaging in physical activities such as sports, swimming, dancing, or biking. By dedicating just ten minutes a day to an active or passive stretching program, children can experience numerous benefits. These include improved posture, which is particularly crucial during growth spurts, decreased discomfort during physical activity, and a reduced risk of injury.

Parents must recognize the importance of incorporating stretching into their child’s daily routine. Spending just ten minutes each day on stretching exercises, whether active or passive, can significantly contribute to their overall well-being. This regular practice not only improves posture, especially during growth periods but also minimizes discomfort during physical activities and lowers the likelihood of injuries.

What Does Stretching Prevent?

In children, stretching muscles promote growth and guard against injuries. When muscles tighten due to the bones elongating before them during growth, children may experience discomfort known as “growing pains.” These pains arise from muscles pulling and causing irritation or pain, a phenomenon exacerbated during rapid growth spurts when a child’s muscles tend to be relatively shorter than their bones. To address this, stretching plays a crucial role in preventing such discomfort and associated risks. Stretching helps lengthen muscles and reduces tension at the muscle-tendon junction, effectively mitigating the likelihood of acute muscle tears. Furthermore, it enhances a child’s range of motion, thereby reducing their susceptibility to strains and fractures. Thus, incorporating stretching into a child’s routine can effectively prevent these issues and promote their overall well-being.

Types Of Stretches 

Stretching is a critical component of any young athlete’s training regimen, aiding in flexibility, injury prevention, and overall performance. Stretching techniques vary, and understanding these variations can optimize training and recovery. For instance, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) is an advanced stretching technique that combines passive stretching and isometric stretching for maximum flexibility. This method, which involves both stretching and contracting the target muscle group, is highly effective for improving flexibility, increasing range of motion, and enhancing muscle strength.

In our practice, we advise that children incorporate both active (with motion) and passive (more static) stretching before engaging in a sport or physical activity. Active stretching exercises, such as jumping jacks, gentle lunges, squats, and moving arms and ankles in circles, should be done first. These dynamic movements help increase heart rate, blood flow, and muscle temperature, priming the body for the demands of the workout or competition.

Following active stretching, passive stretches allow young athletes to focus on specific muscle groups. Examples of these stretches include quadricep stretches, calf stretches, arm-overhead stretches, the child’s pose, cat-cow yoga poses, and simply bending down to touch the toes. These static stretches help relax the muscles and improve flexibility, reducing the risk of injury.

Back Stretches 

Back stretches are essential for maintaining spinal health and flexibility, which are crucial for a wide range of athletic activities. Young athletes can benefit from stretches such as the child’s pose, cat-cow stretches, and seated forward bends. These stretches help to elongate the spine, improve posture, and reduce tension in the back muscles. Incorporating back stretches into the routine can enhance mobility and prevent back injuries, ensuring a strong and flexible foundation for overall athletic performance.

Leg Stretches

Leg stretches are vital for athletes as they involve some of the largest muscle groups in the body, which are critical for most sports. Essential leg stretches include hamstring stretches, quadricep stretches, calf stretches, and hip flexor stretches. For dynamic leg stretches exercises like walking lunges and leg swings are effective. These stretches enhance flexibility, increase range of motion, and prevent injuries by ensuring the muscles are well-prepared for physical activity and adequately relaxed post-activity.

Arm Stretches

Arm stretches are important for young athletes, especially those involved in sports that require upper body strength and flexibility. Dynamic arm stretches, such as arm circles and arm swings, help warm up the shoulder and arm muscles. Static stretches, like the triceps stretch, arm-overhead stretch, and cross-body shoulder stretch, focus on increasing flexibility and reducing muscle tension. Incorporating both dynamic and static arm stretches ensures that the muscles are prepared for action and recover properly, enhancing performance and preventing injuries.

After the activity or sport, children should perform additional passive stretches to keep their muscles long and limber. This practice aids in the transition to a state of rest, promoting recovery and reducing muscle stiffness. For more ideas on the kinds of active and passive stretches your child can do, we recommend parents refer to the book “Stretching” by Bob Anderson. Understanding and incorporating these different types of stretching can significantly benefit young athletes, enhancing their performance and ensuring they maintain optimal physical health throughout their sporting endeavors.

The Dangers Of Overstretching 

While stretching is beneficial for flexibility and injury prevention, it’s important to recognize the dangers of over-stretching. Over-stretching can lead to muscle strains, ligament tears, and joint instability, particularly in young athletes whose bodies are still developing. Pushing a muscle beyond its natural range of motion can cause micro-tears and increase the risk of injury rather than preventing it. To avoid these risks, stretching should always be done with proper technique and moderation, focusing on gradual improvement rather than forcing flexibility. Young athletes must listen to their bodies and stop if they feel pain, ensuring that stretching remains a safe and effective part of their training routine.

Stretching After Injury

When a child gets injured, their muscles tend to shorten and tighten as part of the body’s protective response. To counteract this, a physical therapist or athletic trainer may apply heat and perform gentle stretching exercises to rehabilitate the muscles and restore their function. In cases where surgery is required, such as repairing a torn ACL or treating congenital conditions like scoliosis or arthrogryposis, physical therapy plays a crucial role in recovery. Through passive stretching, a physical therapist can help elongate the affected soft tissue structures, not just at the injury site but also in the surrounding areas. This approach provides important neuromuscular feedback to the brain, setting the stage for successful rehabilitation. By lengthening the muscles, stretching increases their load capacity, facilitating a more efficient and effective recovery process.

When To See The Pediatric Orthopedic Center

If you suspect your child has an orthopedic injury, contact The Pediatric Orthopedic Center at (973) 538-7700 or by filling out the request an appointment form. The Pediatric Orthopedic Center is the premier NJ hub for pediatric orthopedics, with three offices throughout northern NJ. Having been the leader in pediatric orthopedics in this area for over 30 years, we are the largest and most award-winning pediatric orthopedic practice in the tri-state area.

Schedule an Appointment with a Specialist Today

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Know Before Your First Visit

Verify the date and time of your appointment. You may be required to complete new patient paperwork or provide personal information prior to being seen by your doctor. Please arrive approximately 30 minutes prior to your appointment time.

Confirm the address and location of your appointment. The Pediatric Orthopedic Center has four convenient locations in New Jersey. Confirm with the front desk staff the office location for your visit.

Be aware of travel issues and delays. Be mindful of any driving conditions, road construction detours and parking requirements to ensure you arrive for your appointment on time.

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Regular Hours: 9am-5pm
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Regular Hours: 9am-5pm
Walk-in Hours* (Cedar Knolls): 5pm-8pm


Regular Hours: 9am-5pm
Walk-in Hours* (Cedar Knolls): 5pm-8pm


Regular Hours: 9am-5pm
Walk-in Hours* (Cedar Knolls): 5pm-8pm


Regular Hours: 8am-5pm
NO walk-in hours.


Walk-in Hours* (Cedar Knolls): 10am-2pm

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