I have a recent injury…Should I stretch or strengthen?

By Dr. Virginia Nsitem

Dr. Virginia Nsitem

Patients often ask if it is better to stretch an injured muscle and joint or strengthen the injured area. This article will discuss the importance of both stretching and strengthening exercises as part of a comprehensive rehabilitation program.

What Happens to your body following an injury:

Following an injury, you may experience many symptoms, including:

– Warmth and change in the colour of the injured – inflammation – caused by increased blood flow

– Swelling at the site of the injury is caused by an accumulation of fluid



– Pain is caused by the release of certain chemicals in the blood that send signals to your nerves

– Loss of movement and function is due to the inflammation, swelling, pain, and other factors.


Stretching is a technique that positions joints and muscles in a manner that causes the soft tissues to lengthen. The purpose of stretching is to improve flexibility of muscles and ligaments. There are at various types of stretching techniques – stretching performed with the assistance of a trained specialist, stretching performed with and without movement, stretching involving resistance, stretching involving bouncing, and others. When stretching, keep these points in mind:

– Follow a specific stretching program and be consistent. If you do not follow your program, you may not see the gains in flexibility that you hoped for

– Stretch within your tolerance and fitness level – you should not feel pain when stretching, although there may be some slight discomfort as you reach your flexibility limit

– Allow your inflammation to “calm down” (2 to 3 days) before starting a stretching program. If you start stretching too soon after an injury, you may irritate the injured tissues and use incorrect and harmful techniques to compensate. 


Fitness exercise

Strengthening involves moving muscles against resistance. Strengthening exercises can be done using exercise machines, weights, exercise bands, resistance from water in a pool, inclines from hills and stairs, and even cans of soup at home! The purpose of strengthen exercises is to increase or maintain the strength of the muscles in your body and prevent injury. When strengthening, keep these points in mind:

– Start with light resistance or weight to allow your muscles to adjust to the exercise. Certain strengthening exercises can be initiated once your pain level is tolerable

– Take at least 1 day off in-between strengthening exercises for a body part to allow the muscle to recover and prevent re-injuries

– It is common to feel some “delayed” soreness a few hours or even 1 day after a strengthening exercise routine. This type of discomfort should resolve after 1-2 days.

When it comes to an injury, both stretching and strengthening are important, however, they may be started at different stages of your healing process. Also, the type and style of stretching and strengthening exercises may change and become more complex as your flexibility and strength improve. 

It is important to get an accurate diagnosis of your injury from your chiropractor or physician. In addition to a physical examination and a thorough understanding of your symptoms, you may be referred for additional tests. Chiropractors specialize in diagnosing, treating, and rehabilitating injuries of the spine, muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints, and nerves. 

Your rehabilitation program may also include:

– Chiropractic and manual therapies to restore proper movement to the joints. Therapeutic Laser therapy may be used to reduce inflammation and pain, and promote healing of the tissues

– Massage therapy and Acupuncture are both helpful for providing a pain-relieving effect throughout the body, an anti-inflammatory effect, and a general sense of improved well-being.

Dr. Virginia Nsitem is a chiropractor specializing in laser therapy for spine, muscle, joint, and nerve injuries, and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Chiropractic Sports Sciences in Canada. She may be reached at (905) 275-4993, or by email at totalhealth@bellnet.ca

Stop the Pain … Before the Pain Stops You!