Flexibility vs. mobility – what’s in a word?
There are some words that are used without really understanding what they refer to. Flexibility and mobility are two examples of these. You may be forgiven for thinking that they are basically the same thing. However, it’s important to understand the difference between the two when it comes to our aims.
Flexibility is “the ability of a muscle or muscle groups to lengthen passively through a range of motion”.
Mobility is the “ability of a joint to move actively through a range of motion”.
Your mobility is defined by other factors too, such as how far the joint itself can move within its joint capsule. The nervous system is also involved; determining the amount of motor control we have. For instance, your body may be trying to “protect” you by tightening certain muscles. This in turn limits the range of movement through the joints they attach to. However, stretching or foam rolling these tight areas may not be the answer! For example, people who can’t touch their toes often blame tight hamstrings. Yet working solely on stretching the hamstrings won’t bring a lasting effect.
What can I do to improve my flexibility?
If joint mobility is poor, then the muscles that attach won’t be able to have full flexibility, even if you loosen them! You will therefore need to encourage a good range of free movement throughout the joints. This is where the phrase active mobility comes in.
This simply involves… moving! Because they do not have a direct blood supply, joints rely on movement in order to stay healthy. Motion lubricates the joints, helping to refresh the synovial fluid within the joint capsule. Over time, this also helps them to move more easily. Joints that move in the way they are supposed to will help prevent discomfort. This in turn allows your body to move better, giving you a greater range of pain free movement in your everyday life.
So what can I do to mobilise my joints?
It is usually better to do “little and often” instead of doing one intense session. Some simple joint mobility exercises could include:
- neck rolls
- arm circles
- spinal twists
- pelvic circles (think hula hoop!)
- wrist and ankle rolls
Forms of gentle exercise such as Yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates can also be beneficial.
What else could affect my mobility?
We do need to consider other things that may affect our ability to do these exercises. For example, if you have tendinitis, arthritis or joint restrictions elsewhere, you may not be able to take one specific joint through its full range of movement freely. This is where your chiropractor can help in identifying problem areas, giving manual adjustments or other treatment as needed.
Where do I start?
It is often a good idea to have an assessment before starting any new exercise routine. This will allow you to identify any misalignment or faulty movement. That way you can ensure that you are not straining or encouraging anything that could lead to further wear-and-tear later on. Again, your chiropractor can advise you on areas that may need to be looked at.
Once you have got a good range of mobility, you will often find that your flexibility will improve at the same time! The more you move, the more your body will allow you to move – and as the saying goes, “Use it or lose it!”
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