Muscle stretching - the potential role of endogenous pain inhibitory modulation on stretch tolerance

Scand J Pain. 2019 Apr 24;19(2):415-422. doi: 10.1515/sjpain-2018-0334.


Background and aims The effect of stretching on joint range of motion is well documented and is primarily related to changes in the tolerance to stretch, but the mechanisms underlying this change are still largely unknown. The aim of this study was to investigate the influence of a remote, painful stimulus on stretch tolerance. Methods Thirty-four healthy male subjects were recruited and randomly assigned to an experimental pain group (n=17) or a control group (n=17). Passive knee extension range of motion, the activity of hamstring muscles and passive resistive torque were measured with subjects in a seated position. Three consecutive measures were performed with a 5-min interval between. A static stretch protocol was utilized in both groups to examine the effect of stretching and differences in stretch tolerance between groups. Following this, the pain-group performed a cold pressor test which is known to engage the endogenous pain inhibitory system after which measurements were repeated. Results A significant increase in knee extension range of motion was found in the pain group compared with controls (ANCOVA: p<0.05). No difference was found in muscle activity or passive resistive torque between groups (ANCOVA p>0.091). Conclusions Passive knee extension range of motion following stretching increased when following a distant, painful stimulus, potentially engaging the endogenous pain inhibitory systems. Current findings indicate a link between increased tolerance to stretch and endogenous pain inhibition. Implications The current findings may have implications for clinical practice as they indicate that a distant painful stimulus can influence range of motion in healthy individuals. This implies that the modulation of pain has significance for the efficacy of stretching which is important knowledge when prescribing stretching as part of rehabilitation.

Keywords: pain; range of motion; stretch tolerance; stretching.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Hamstring Muscles
  • Humans
  • Knee
  • Male
  • Muscle Stretching Exercises*
  • Pain*
  • Range of Motion, Articular*
  • Torque*
  • Young Adult