The stresses and strains that remain in an organ when the external load is removed (the no-load state) are called residual stresses and strains. They can be relieved by cutting up the organ to obtain the zero-stress configuration. This phenomenon was demonstrated more than 15 years ago in cardiovascular research but until recently it was not realized by the gastrointestinal research community. The function of the gastrointestinal tract is to propel food by peristaltic motion, which is a result of the interaction of the tissue forces in the wall and the hydrodynamic forces in the food bolus. To understand the tissue forces, it is necessary to know the stress-strain relationships of the tissues that must be measured in reference to the zero-stress state. It has become clear that the zero-stress configuration of the gastrointestinal tract is very different from that of the no-load condition and that the zero-stress state is sensitive to structural and mechanical remodeling. The purpose of this review is to describe the basic theory and experiments of residual stress and to explore its physiological and pathophysiological implications in the gastrointestinal system.