“My doctor said to work on my flexibility…”
Hopefully by now you’ve heard that moving your body on a regular basis is incredibly important - for your entire being, not just your physical body. Moving your body helps to keep your joints lubricated making movement smoother and easier and it affects your mental and emotional health as well. Additionally, when you’re moving, you are less likely to be sitting (except if you’re on a bike, row machine, canoe, kayak, etc.) and for many of us that means less lower back pain!
But what happens if you are a person (active or not) who has muscle aches and joint pains? A couple things could be going on: you might have an allergy or sensitivity to something you ingest (that can be food, medicine, supplements, beverages, smoke, etc.), it could be something in your environment both at home or at work (the air quality, dust particles, exposure to toxins, dander, etc.), it could be because you have lost some muscular strength (you’d be surprised how often people have pain and it’s a result of weakness), or it could be because you’re just not maintaining your mobility and flexibility (your muscles are tight and/or your joints cannot move through their full range of motion). OR. You could have a little bit of it all.
Let’s talk about the last one. I can’t even count the number of people (yoga students and clients) who come to me and say “I can’t do X, I’m just not flexible.” The thing is, mobility and flexibility are two different things that are oftentimes used interchangeably. Mobility is referring to your body’s ability to actively move a joint through it’s full range of motion (read: you intentionally move your joint through it’s full range of motion, like lifting your arms overhead) while flexibility is the ability of the muscles, ligaments and tendons (soft tissues) to passively stretch.
It’s important to note that being mobile requires flexibility, because tight muscles that don’t stretch limit your body’s ability to move joints through their proper range of motion. Your flexibility can be influenced by genetics, age, injuries and gender. If you are a hypermobile person, you don’t have this particular problem because your body exceeds the limits of normal range of motion within the joints, but you may have other troubles down the line. There can be other reasons why your mobility might be limited that you don’t have control over, such as joint structure and age, and things that you do have a bit more control over like overall health and your body composition (fat and muscle mass percentage).
So why am I even talking about all of this? Because being a person with a normal range of motion can make such a difference in the quality of your life! Imagine not being able to get dressed in the morning by yourself because you can’t bend over far enough to pull your underwear on? Maybe you’re saying well, I’ll just skip the underwear - but that doesn’t solve the issue, does it. What about trying to put on your seatbelt? Your arm can’t reach back any more to grab it so you have to twist your whole body around to grab the belt with the other hand - but what if you were so stiff you couldn’t twist so you had to rotate your entire body, or have someone else do it for you? What if you loved golf or baseball or tennis, but your arms couldn’t swing through a normal range of motion and now it feels like you’re a T-Rex just trying to enjoy something you once loved. More importantly, the probability of injury is higher. It’s actually quite startling how many people are reaching for a box of cereal for their kids and they tear a rotator cuff muscle, or they’re trying to play pass in the backyard and tear a quad, or lift up their mattress to change the sheets and strain their wrist so badly they have to wear a brace. These are all everyday activities causing injuries!
So what can we do? First start by keeping active - don’t sit all day long, get up and walk around, stretch a bit, do some yoga, foam roll, get massages, etc. If you are a member of a gym, see if the fitness professionals have a functional movement test they can put you through to establish a baseline. If you don’t want to do that, but are ready to start doing something about your flexibility and mobility at home, self myofascial release is a great place to begin. You can check out my other post called Move with Ease to understand this a little better, and when you’re ready for it you can jump into my self paced SMR (self myofascial release) workshop called Better Mobility.