Daily muscle stretching enhances blood flow, endothelial function, capillarity, vascular volume and connectivity in aged skeletal muscle

J Physiol. 2018 May 15;596(10):1903-1917. doi: 10.1113/JP275459. Epub 2018 Apr 5.


Key points: In aged rats, daily muscle stretching increases blood flow to skeletal muscle during exercise. Daily muscle stretching enhanced endothelium-dependent vasodilatation of skeletal muscle resistance arterioles of aged rats. Angiogenic markers and capillarity increased in response to daily stretching in muscles of aged rats. Muscle stretching performed with a splint could provide a feasible means of improving muscle blood flow and function in elderly patients who cannot perform regular aerobic exercise.

Abstract: Mechanical stretch stimuli alter the morphology and function of cultured endothelial cells; however, little is known about the effects of daily muscle stretching on adaptations of endothelial function and muscle blood flow. The present study aimed to determine the effects of daily muscle stretching on endothelium-dependent vasodilatation and muscle blood flow in aged rats. The lower hindlimb muscles of aged Fischer rats were passively stretched by placing an ankle dorsiflexion splint for 30 min day-1 , 5 days week-1 , for 4 weeks. Blood flow to the stretched limb and the non-stretched contralateral limb was determined at rest and during treadmill exercise. Endothelium-dependent/independent vasodilatation was evaluated in soleus muscle arterioles. Levels of hypoxia-induced factor-1α, vascular endothelial growth factor A and neuronal nitric oxide synthase were determined in soleus muscle fibres. Levels of endothelial nitric oxide synthase and superoxide dismutase were determined in soleus muscle arterioles, and microvascular volume and capillarity were evaluated by microcomputed tomography and lectin staining, respectively. During exercise, blood flow to plantar flexor muscles was significantly higher in the stretched limb. Endothelium-dependent vasodilatation was enhanced in arterioles from the soleus muscle from the stretched limb. Microvascular volume, number of capillaries per muscle fibre, and levels of hypoxia-induced factor-1α, vascular endothelial growth factor and endothelial nitric oxide synthase were significantly higher in the stretched limb. These results indicate that daily passive stretching of muscle enhances endothelium-dependent vasodilatation and induces angiogenesis. These microvascular adaptations may contribute to increased muscle blood flow during exercise in muscles that have undergone daily passive stretch.

Keywords: endothelium; exercise hyperemia; hypoxia inducible factor-1 alpha; nitric oxide synthase.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging*
  • Animals
  • Blood Volume*
  • Capillary Action
  • Endothelium, Vascular / cytology
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiology*
  • Hemodynamics*
  • Male
  • Muscle Stretching Exercises
  • Muscle, Skeletal / blood supply*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Physical Conditioning, Animal*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred F344