By Rob Stanborough ~ PT, DPT, MHSc, MTC, CMTPT, FAAOMPT – First Coast Rehabilitation (904) 829-3411

Pandiculation is involuntary stretching of soft tissues. You’ve probably seen your dog or cat perform such stretches upon waking from a nap or even experienced the refreshing feeling yourself. Yawning is a perfect example of pandiculation – arms stretched over head, back arched. It’s a stretch that can’t be stopped. But why do our bodies do such strange things? One current hypothesis is that it helps regulate our locomotor or musculoskeletal system.
Most people know muscles move bones, which create movement but few have heard about fascia. Fascia is the fabric that helps hold us together and more. Current research now tells us fascia not only holds us together but also plays an integrative role with muscles. It helps distribute forces from muscle making movement more efficient.
So why stretch, or pandiculate? Although fascia is a durable connective tissue, remains lubricated and mobile with movement, it can become sticky and stiff when we don’t move, hence the need to stretch, or ‘pandiculate’ after periods of stillness. Such stretches are said to reverse the stiffening effects immobility during sleeping.
The purpose of this column is to emphasize the need to stretch. Chances are the last time many of us stretched with a goal in mind was when we participated in in sports, or maybe further back during “hips, ankles, knees and toes” in elementary school PE. The fact is, stretching should be a regular part of one’s life. Gentle stretches to the neck, shoulders, back, hips and legs are thought to decreases compressive forces to the joints. And, they only take a few minutes.
Stretching can be as simple as leaning through a doorway while your arms on you the jam. Or leaning back in your computer chair after sitting a while – both examples reverse the stresses through the tissues.
The body will automatically attempt to maintain mobility of soft tissue via pandiculation (involuntary stretches). Imagine how voluntary and routine stretching could achieve greater and longer lasting effects when done intentionally.
We’ve all been a little less active during covid, why not learn to stretch intentionally. If you are getting stiffer or feel you are losing range of motion, perhaps you should consult your physician or physical therapist regarding a stretching program designed specifically for you.
Rob Stanborough is a physical therapists, president and co-owner of First Coast Rehabilitation. He is co-author of Myofascial Manipulation: Theory & Application, 3rd ed by Proed Inc. He has been in practice for over 13 years, is a Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Therapists and trained/certified in a number of soft tissue techniques. Read previous columns posted on