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Stretching helps resolve acute inflammation and reduce pain.

Updated: May 17, 2023

Research on the effect of gently stretching rats during acute tissue healing offers some interesting insights for us humans.

Gentle stretching forces help resolve acute inflammation, and reduce pain and immune cell infiltrate. This has implications for those of us interested in connective tissue stretching using MLD, and whole body stretching such as in many yoga exercises.

The 2016 report from researchers at the Harvard Medical School (1) found that rats who were comfortably stretched for 10 minutes twice per day had better mobility (longer gait), less pain, and reduced inflammatory infiltration 2-weeks after a painful injection (carrageenan).

Ultrasound measures showed that the rats who had been actively stretched had a thinner inflammatory lesion with a smaller cross-sectional area, compared to the lesions of rats who were not actively stretched twice a day, indicating that the stretching had increased the rate of healing.

The authors investigated further and found this to be accompanied by a higher level of resolvins (which mediate the resolution of local tissue inflammation) and lower the numbers of neutrophils, suggesting faster tissue repair in the rats who were actively stretched.

image by Anupam Mahapatra on Unsplash

This effect of stretching may account for the benefit of gentle yoga exercises in pain management which has been shown in multiple studies.

It may also go some way to explaining the increased rate of wound healing frequently observed when MLD is applied during recovery from surgery and other traumatic injuries.

The description of the gentle stretching forces applied in the rat studies resembles the precise stretching of the loose connective tissue during MLD. The stretch phase respects the natural tensile resistance of collagen and the elasticity of elastin fibres, supporting repair and functional remodelling of the connective tissue.

Shearing forces also affect the thixotropic state of the ground substance, releasing free water molecules. The shearing forces applied during MLD increase lymphatic pumping, increasing lymph formation and the potential uptake of excess inflammatory mediators from the damaged tissue. The resulting reduction in nociceptor firing is further enhanced by the strong 'gate' effect of MLD via the light touch mechanoreceptors which interrupt ascending pain pathways in the spinal cord. Read "My 10 favourite facts about MLD" for more on these physiological effects.

I'm sure many of you who work with the body's fascial planes will also have brain connections firing about the effects of your modalities on acute inflammation and healing!

The gentlest of therapies frequently have the strongest effects on pain, and techniques such as MLD should be considered as an alternative to drug therapies in acute tissue healing and pain management.

Berrueta, L., Muskaj, I., Olenich, S., Butler, T., Badger, G. J., Colas, R. A., . . . Langevin, H. M. (2016). Stretching Impacts Inflammation Resolution in Connective Tissue. Journal of Cellular Physiology, 231(7), 1621-1627. doi:

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Unknown member
Jun 08, 2022

love your posts Dr Jan, your interpretation of the research and application is easily comprehended by me. thankyou

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