DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a runner with tight hamstring muscles. What kind of stretching can I do to loosen them? I have had one pulled hamstring injury and don’t want another. – R.D.

At this very moment, there is a controversy raging about the usefulness of stretching. From Australia comes a report that failed to show that stretching before exercise or sports participation contributes anything to injury reduction or performance enhancement. Another study claims that stretching before an athletic event somehow diminishes muscle strength.

Not everyone agrees with the above. Indeed, there are sports that demand flexibility. Gymnastics is one. So is ballet dancing. (I consider ballet to be a sport.)

If you had a muscle injury that you believe resulted from too-tight muscles, it won’t harm you to adopt a stretching program. You can tell me the results.

A good hamstring (the muscles on the back of the thigh) stretch is to put one leg on a kitchen counter or the seat of a chair, straight out in front of you. Bend and bring your upper body as close as you can to the outstretched leg. Keep the head and neck in line with the torso. Stop and relax for a moment, then repeat. Of course, stretch the other leg, too. Ten stretches for each leg are enough.

Warm up before stretching. You can stretch warm muscles, tendons and ligaments more easily when they are not cold. Jogging in place for three to five minutes is a good warm-up.

When executing a stretch, stretch to the point of pain and then pull back until the pain leaves. In the early weeks of a stretching program, hold the stretch for 10 to 15 seconds. As you become more flexible, gradually hold the stretch until you finally end up with a held stretch of 20 to 30 seconds.

Let me know the results. If flexibility keeps you from muscle, ligament and tendon injuries, I will write to the people in Australia and tell them they are wrong.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I coach a high-school girls’ basketball team. The school provides us with a water bucket and a ladle for games and practices. I wonder about the sanitation of this. Is it healthy? – G.D.

It’s not a healthy practice. More than once have outbreaks of infectious diseases been traced to communal use of water buckets.

How about having your team bring their own plastic squeeze bottles?

If the squeeze bottle idea is an impossibility, then have the girls drink from disposable cups and have the water in a container that has a spigot.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My husband is a weekend hockey player. He plays Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. On Sundays, he is tired out. On Mondays he is exhausted.

Is there any vitamin or diet that can restore his energy? – O.B.

Your husband’s fatigue is understandable. Few sports demand as much energy as hockey does. Three days in a row is a lot of hockey.

His fatigue might be due to depletion of muscle sugar — glycogen. Glycogen fuels muscles, and when the supply dwindles, so does performance.

No vitamin will pep him up.

Restoration of muscle glycogen might. In the first two hours after playing or exercising, muscles are most avid for blood sugar, and the body replaces muscle glycogen more rapidly in that time slot than at any other time.

Have him eat within two hours of having played hockey. The meal should be one high in carbohydrates. I know carbohydrates are supposed to be the enemies of dieters, but your husband is not dieting. Spaghetti, cereals, grains, beans, pancakes, potatoes and fruits are good sources of carbohydrates.

If the change in diet and mealtime doesn’t restore his vigor, he ought to pay a visit to the family doctor to be sure that no illness is draining his energy.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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