Sports Medicine

, Volume 47, Issue 12, pp 2507–2520 | Cite as

Cardiovascular Responses to Skeletal Muscle Stretching: “Stretching” the Truth or a New Exercise Paradigm for Cardiovascular Medicine?

Review Article

Abstract

Stretching is commonly prescribed with the intended purpose of increasing range of motion, enhancing muscular coordination, and preventing prolonged immobilization induced by aging or a sedentary lifestyle. Emerging evidence suggests that acute or long-term stretching exercise may modulate a variety of cardiovascular responses. Specifically, at the onset of stretch, the mechanical deformation of the vascular bed coupled with stimulation of group III muscle afferent fibers initiates a cascade of events resulting in both peripheral vasodilation and a heart rate-driven increase in cardiac output, blood pressure, and muscle blood flow. This potential to increase shear stress and blood flow without the use of excessive muscle energy expenditure may hold important implications for future therapeutic vascular medicine and cardiac health. However, the idea that a cardiovascular component may be involved in human skeletal muscle stretching is relatively new. Therefore, the primary intent of this review is to highlight topics related to skeletal muscle stretching and cardiovascular regulation and function. The current evidence suggests that acute stretching causes a significant macro- and microcirculatory event that alters blood flow and the relationship between oxygen availability and oxygen utilization. These acute vascular changes if performed chronically may result in improved endothelial function, improved arterial blood vessel stiffness, and/or reduced blood pressure. Although several mechanisms have been postulated, an increased nitric oxide bioavailability has been highlighted as one promising candidate for the improvement in vessel function with stretching. Collectively, the evidence provided in this review suggests that stretching acutely or long term may serve as a novel and alternative low intensity therapeutic intervention capable of improving several parameters of vascular function.

Notes

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Funding

No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this article.

Conflict of interest

Nicholas Kruse and Barry Scheuermann declare that they have no conflicts of interest relevant to the content of this review.

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science, Carver College of MedicineUniversity of IowaIowa CityUSA
  2. 2.Abboud Cardiovascular Research Center, Carver College of MedicineUniversity of IowaIowa CityUSA
  3. 3.Cardiopulmonary and Metabolism Research Laboratory, Department of KinesiologyUniversity of ToledoToledoUSA

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