When someone can’t touch their toes, reach around to scratch an itch on their back, or turn their head to look over their shoulder, they usually complain about being inflexible. But is it inflexibility or a mobility issue? And is there a difference?
Flexibility and mobility are two different concepts, which we will compare in this article. The movement experts at ProFysio Physical Therapy can help you address both issues.
Mobility and flexibility are elements of healthy movement. Strength, stability, and flexibility are needed for optimal mobility.
Mobility and Your Joints
Mobility refers to the joint’s ability to actively move through its full range of motion. Good mobility goes beyond flexibility. You also have control, thanks to the strength of the muscles, including smaller accessory and stabilizing muscles, around the joint. Great mobility provides movement without restrictions or compensations. You can scratch that itch on your back without hurting your elbow or shoulder.
Every human body is unique, and our bodies change over time. We all have inherent strengths and weaknesses. Some things we can change and some things we cannot.
Factors that affect an individual’s mobility:
- Joint Structure
- Soft Tissue Flexibility
- Fat/Muscle Mass
The movement experts at ProFysio Physical Therapy has several tools that can help improve mobility:
- Dynamic Stretching: Unlike passive, static stretching, dynamic stretches are active movements that allow the muscle tissue to warm up and move through the full range of motion. Walking lunges, high kicks, and arms circles are examples. This type of stretching can be done before a workout.
- Sports Physical Therapy: You don’t have to be an athlete to benefit from sports physical therapy. The goal is to restore muscle performance and functional movements. One tool we use is mobility drills customized to your range of motion. Plyometric exercises, kinesiology tape, and strength training are also a few tools we use.
A comprehensive mobility program will include a variety of moves and techniques that target muscles and the soft tissue around the joints.
Flexibility and Your Muscles
In simple terms, flexibility is the ability of the soft tissues (muscles, ligaments, tendons) to passively stretch with the help of another person, device, or gravity. The muscle is temporarily lengthened. If a muscle lacks suppleness, it can more easily tear. Tendons and ligaments can be damaged.
Tight, immovable muscles increase the likelihood of injury, especially if the muscle is pushed beyond what is safe for it at that time. The opposite extreme can also be problematic. If tendons and ligaments are too elastic, there is less joint stability and more risk for injury. Those with hypermobility also tend to gravitate toward exercise and activities that celebrate their extreme flexibility, like yoga and gymnastics. Repeatedly pushing deeper into their super flexibility is unhealthy for their bodies in the long run.
Several factors impact an individual’s flexibility:
There are ways to safely improve flexibility. Since flexibility takes a nosedive with age, therapies should focus on keeping muscles and soft tissue healthy.
At ProFysio Physical Therapy, we use a variety of techniques that include the following:
- Myofascial Release: Foam rolling, myofascial trigger points, and other techniques reduce tension in the muscle, alleviate inflammation, and support greater flexibility.
- Cupping: Cupping uses negative pressure (not the positive, pushing pressure in massage) to stretch the tissue. Blood flow to the muscle increases, promoting cell repair and tissue oxygenation.
- Static Stretching: This form of stretching (vs. dynamic) involves holding a stretch for an extended period. It’s what most people imagine when they see the word “stretching.” Static stretching should be done slowly and held for about 30 to 60 seconds to train the muscle and connective tissue to relax and adjust to the new length. This stretching should only be done after muscles are warm. After a workout is usually a great time for static stretching.
Remember that flexibility alone does not make for healthy movement. Flexibility in the absence of strength and stability can lead to acute and chronic damage.
PTs Can Customize Your Mobility and Flexibility Program
Schedule an appointment for a consultation at ProFysio Physical Therapy in New Jersey before starting a mobility and flexibility training program. We will assess muscular imbalances, movement patterns, and injuries to design a safe and effective training plan.
Schedule your free consultation by calling (732) 812-5200.