Passive properties of human skeletal muscle during stretch maneuvers. A review

Scand J Med Sci Sports. 1998 Apr;8(2):65-77. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.1998.tb00171.x.


Despite limited scientific knowledge, stretching of human skeletal muscle to improve flexibility is a widespread practice among athletes. This article reviews recent findings regarding passive properties of the hamstring muscle group during stretch based on a model that was developed which could synchronously and continuously measure passive hamstring resistance and electromyographic activity, while the velocity and angle of stretch was controlled. Resistance to stretch was defined as passive torque (Nm) offered by the hamstring muscle group during passive knee extension using an isokinetic dynamometer with a modified thigh pad. To simulate a clinical static stretch, the knee was passively extended to a pre-determined final position (0.0875 rad/s, dynamic phase) where it remained stationary for 90 s (static phase). Alternatively, the knee was extended to the point of discomfort (stretch tolerance). From the torque-angle curve of the dynamic phase of the static stretch, and in the stretch tolerance protocol, passive energy and stiffness were calculated. Torque decline in the static phase was considered to represent viscoelastic stress relaxation. Using the model, studies were conducted which demonstrated that a single static stretch resulted in a 30% viscoelastic stress relaxation. With repeated stretches muscle stiffness declined, but returned to baseline values within 1 h. Long-term stretching (3 weeks) increased joint range of motion as a result of a change in stretch tolerance rather than in the passive properties. Strength training resulted in increased muscle stiffness, which was unaffected by daily stretching. The effectiveness of different stretching techniques was attributed to a change in stretch tolerance rather than passive properties. Inflexible and older subjects have increased muscle stiffness, but a lower stretch tolerance compared to subjects with normal flexibility and younger subjects, respectively. Although far from all questions regarding the passive properties of humans skeletal muscle have been answered in these studies, the measurement technique permitted some initial important examinations of vicoelastic behavior of human skeletal muscle.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Elasticity
  • Electromyography
  • Humans
  • Knee Joint / physiology
  • Leg / physiology
  • Models, Biological
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Pliability
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology
  • Sports / physiology*
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Torque
  • Viscosity