Cell/matrix adhesions are modulated by cytoskeletal or external stresses and adapt to the mechanical properties of the extracellular matrix. We propose that this mechanosensitivity arises from the activation of a mechanosensor located within the adhesion itself. We show that this mechanism accounts for the observed directional growth of focal adhesions and the reduction or even cessation of their growth when cells adhere to a soft extracellular matrix. We predict quantitatively that both the elasticity and the thickness of the matrix play a key role in the dynamics of focal adhesions. Two different types of dynamics are expected depending on whether the thickness of the matrix is of order of or much larger than the adhesion size. In the latter situation, we predict that the adhesion region reaches a saturation size that can be tuned by the mechanical properties of the matrix.