Various theories have been proposed to explain increases in muscle extensibility observed after intermittent stretching. Most of these theories advocate a mechanical increase in length of the stretched muscle. More recently, a sensory theory has been proposed suggesting instead that increases in muscle extensibility are due to a modification of sensation only. Studies that evaluated the biomechanical effect of stretching showed that muscle length does increase during stretch application due to the viscoelastic properties of muscle. However, this length increase is transient, its magnitude and duration being dependent upon the duration and type of stretching applied. Most of these studies suggest that increases in muscle extensibility observed after a single stretching session and after short-term (3- to 8-week) stretching programs are due to modified sensation. The biomechanical effects of long-term (>8 weeks) and chronic stretching programs have not yet been evaluated. The purposes of this article are to review each of these proposed theories and to discuss the implications for research and clinical practice.
Both authors provided concept/idea/project design and writing. Ms Weppler collected and analyzed information. Dr Magnusson provided consultation (including review of manuscript before submission).
- Received January 15, 2009.
- Accepted October 12, 2009.
- © 2010 American Physical Therapy Association