Stretches - Hamstring, Calf and Quad Whenever a new sports season rolls around, athletes who may have taken some time off from training are prone for injury when preseason training gets underway. “The sudden surge in activity could lead to pain and injury,” says Brian T. Vernau, MD, FAAP, CAQSM, a physician who specializes in pediatric and adolescent sports medicine at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Children in particular are susceptible to minor injuries in the lower leg. “That’s because their bones grow faster than their muscles and tendons,” says Dr. Vernau, “which can cause tightness and joint pain. One of the most common sports injuries we see at CHOP’s Sports Medicine and Performance Center is runner’s knee, often caused by tight hamstrings and quads.”

Proper conditioning will help protect your child from injury on the playing field. You may have been taught to stretch before practice, but now experts know that the best way to increase flexibility and help prevent painful joints is by stretching afterward when muscles are already warm and loose.

Best stretches for athletes

Dr. Vernau recommends the following stretches, which target the most commonly injured muscles. After a practice or game, have your child hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds without bouncing, and repeat three times on each side.  

Hamstring stretch

  • Keep back and knee straight
  • Lean forward, bending at hips
  • Reach for toes

Quad stretch

  • Keep back and hip straight
  • Tighten abdominal muscles
  • Pull foot in with hand on same side of body 

Calf stretch

  • Back heel on the floor
  • Back knee straight
  • Toes point forward
  • Push knee forward over toes

If your athlete feels pain after starting a stretching program, ask your primary care doctor for an evaluation to rule out a serious problem.

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