By Alex Bigale, PTA
Flexibility allows a joint or group of joints to move through its range of motion. Most people think of someone being able to bend over and touch their toes to determine if they are flexible or not. This movement does show the flexibility of the glutes and hamstring muscle, but this example can be applied to any joint or limb of the body. There are many factors that can play a roll in how flexible or limber a person can be.
- The make up of the joint will determine the available ROM that the joint can physically move through before reaching its end or another bony prominence.
- Hinge Joint: Like the name suggests, this joint works like a door hinge and can move in one plane or two directions. The knee is an example of a hinge joint.
- Ball and Socket Joint: The shoulder and hip joints are examples of ball and socket. These joints offer the ability to move through multiple planes
- Pivot Joint: This type of joint allows for rotational movements. Such as the cervical/neck joints and the wrist/forearm.
- Muscles, tendon, ligaments, fascia, fat, skin all have the ability to affect range of motion and flexibility
- The most important in this group for improving flexibility are the muscles due to their more elastic nature compared to tendons and ligaments.
- The nervous system sends and receives information from proprioceptors in the muscles and tendons.
- Golgi Tendon Organs and muscle spindle receptors work to prevent overstretching or too much force on a muscle. When a muscle is stretched or forced to quickly they send a signal to the brain to tell the muscle being stretched to contract and protect itself. This is why muscles respond better to stretching at lower loads and longer durations.
Benefits of Flexibility
- Improved Posture: Improving your flexibility in muscle groups such as the pecs, hip flexors, and hamstrings can improve upper body and hip posture.
- Decreased Pain: Coinciding with improving posture, proper body alignment and decreased stress (tight muscles) on joints and adjacent bones/structures can help decrease pain. An example would be someone with low back pain, typically has tight glutes, hamstrings and hip flexors which throws off the alignment of the hips and lumbar/sacral spine. This can cause tension, decreased mobility, and pinched nerves.
- Decreased Risks for Injury: A more flexible joint or muscle group can move through a wider ROM and handle increased forces compared to a tight or guarded one. This is particularly true with higher impact or agility type movements or sports. This also applies to every day activities such as bending, stooping, and squatting. All bones and muscles are linked in the body, so if one portion is tight or immobile, the body must compensate to perform these movements which can cause increased stress on body parts that do not typically perform these movements or carry the load/force.
How To Improve Flexibility
Warm oxygenated muscle tissue is more extensible than cold muscles. Prior to stretching it is recommended to perform some type of low impact cardio activity as an active warm up to increase blood flow which in turn increases temperature and oxygen in the muscles. This allows them to handle stretching better and decrease risks of injury. Static stretching is one of the most common ways of stretching which involves the targeted muscle being pushed to its limit and holding the stretch for a period of time before relaxing. This can be done with body positioning, straps, or another person. There are many studies with varying results on the optimum time spent stretching a muscle. The majority of these studies suggest that the total time spent stretching one muscle group should be approximately 60 second, but this can be broken down into intervals of 20 or 30 seconds.
If you are having pain or feel limited in your flexibility and mobility. Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute has orthopaedic physicians and therapists that specialize in this field that can help set up a plan of care for you. Call JOI-2000 to schedule an appointment or JOI Rehab at 904-858-7045.
By: Alex Bigale, PTA