Can a Muscle stretch? The very common answer that you will get from 99% of people in the world is “Of course they do, I stretch them all the time.” Now lets looks at the anatomy and physiology of a muscle. You can read millions of texts and articles on muscles and their actions, and all you will find is the action of “shortening” or “contracting”. You will never find in the physiology, the act of stretching. You do find a muscle “relaxing” from its previous contracted state, but it is not stretching beyond its size. In fact, if you administer anaesthesia and completely relax the muscles and body, you will be able to move around an extremely stiff person to limits far greater than they can when the anaesthesia has worn off.
There is no doubt however that constant static “stretching” does increase flexibility. How does this happen? The first way is the literal stretch and change in fascia. Fascia can change through a change in the hydrogen bonds. The lengthening of fascia in an area can occur, leading to an increase of motion in an area. The muscle however is not “stretching”, it is “relaxing” or uncoiling. If you coil an elastic and then pull the two ends apart, it will not be as long as if you uncoil it and pull the two ends apart. The elastic however only has a set distance it can go before breaking. Nerves around the tendons, and nerves within the muscle belly are involved in reflex loops to tell the muscles to uncoil when strain is put upon it. Static stretching puts tension on the tendons which send a signal to the central nervous system. A signal is sent back to the muscle forcing it to uncoil. The muscle does not stretch, it relaxes and uncoils due to the signal it receives from the central nervous system.
Osteopaths became aware of this in the early 1900’s and used this technique to align the body. The names of the treatment were different from present time. Now it is termed “muscle energy”. The early Osteopaths termed it Direct, and Indirect treatment. This technique is used very often by yours truly, Anthony Valente at NatCan Integrative and offers great results for pain relief.
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Anthony Valente, M.OMSc