The role of mechanical and neural restraints to joint range of motion during passive stretch

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1998 Jun;30(6):928-32. doi: 10.1097/00005768-199806000-00023.


Musculoskeletal flexibility is typically characterized by maximum range of motion (ROM) in a joint or series of joints. Resistance to passive stretch in the mid-range of motion is a function of the passive mechanical restraints to motion. However, an active contractile response may contribute resistance at terminal ROM.

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine whether maximum straight leg raise (SLR) ROM was limited by passive mechanical forces or stretch-induced contractile responses to stretch.

Methods: An instrumented SLR stretch was applied to the right leg of 16 subjects ending at the point of discomfort. Torque was measured with a load cell attached to the ankle. An electrogoniometer was placed on the hip, and the knee was braced in extension. Surface electrodes were placed over the rectus and biceps femoris muscles. Following the instrumented SLR test, maximum ROM was measured goniometrically by a physical therapist using the standard SLR test (PT SLR ROM). Torque/ROM curves were plotted for each subject.

Results: PT SLR ROM was positively related to total energy absorbed (area under the curve) (r = 0.49, P = 0.044), negatively related to the increase in torque from 20 to 50 degrees (r = -0.81, P < 0.0001) and negatively related to energy absorbed from 20 to 50 degrees (r = -0.73, P < 0.001). Minimal stretch-induced hamstring activity was elicited (3 +/- 1% MVC), and the EMG activity was unrelated to PT SLR ROM (r = -0.06, P = 0.8). A combination of the increase in torque from 20 to 50 degrees and total energy absorbed improved the relationship to PT SLR ROM (r = 0.89, P = 0.001). Seventy-nine percent of the variability in maximum SLR ROM could be explained by the passive mechanical response to stretch.

Conclusions: These data lend support to the concept that musculoskeletal flexibility can be explained in mechanical terms rather than by neural theories.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leg
  • Male
  • Muscle Contraction*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Range of Motion, Articular*