As the function of the gastrointestinal tract is to a large degree mechanical, it has become increasingly popular to acquire distensibility data in motility research based on various parameters. Hence it is important to know on which geometrical and mechanical assumptions the various parameters are based. Currently, compliance and tone derived from pressure-volume curves are by far the most often used parameters. However, pressure-volume relations obtained in tubular organs must be carefully interpreted as they provide no direct measure of luminal cross-sectional area and other variables useful in plane stress and strain analysis. Thus, erroneous conclusions concerning tissue distensibility may be deduced. Other parameters, such as wall tension, stress and strain, give more useful information about mechanical behaviour. Distensibility data procure significance in fluid mechanics and in the study of tone, peristaltic reflexes, and mechanoreceptor kinematics. Such data are needed for the determination of the interaction between stimulus, electrical responses in neurons and the mechanical behaviour of the gut. Furthermore, from a clinical perspective, investigation of visco-elastic properties is important because GI diseases are associated with growth and remodelling. For example, prestenotic dilatation, increased collagen synthesis, dysmotility and altered distensibility are common features of obstructive diseases. The purpose of this review is to discuss the physiological and clinical importance of acquiring biomechanical data, distensibility parameters and interpretation of these results and their associated errors. We will also discuss some aspects of the relationship between morphology, growth and biomechanics. Finally, we will outline a number of techniques to study the mechanical properties of the GI tract.