Flexibility is the ability of a joint/s to move through an unrestricted range of motion. To maintain joint health, the cartilage and structures within the joint need a constant supply of blood, nutrients, and synovial fluid to move through a full range of motion. The range of motion is influenced by the mobility of the soft tissues that surround the joint. These soft tissues include muscles, ligaments, tendons, joint capsules, and skin. Factors affecting the loss of normal joint flexibility include injury, inactivity, or little to no stretching. Although flexibility varies for everybody, minimum ranges are necessary for maintaining total body health. Injury Medical Chiropractic and Functional Medicine Clinic can create a personalized stretching program to restore joint flexibility.
- Not stretching the body can lead to fatigue, weakness, and soft tissue shortening.
- The effect can be particularly noticeable in weight-bearing joints like the hips and knees.
- If the joints become weak, the risk of injury increases.
- Inflexible muscles tire more quickly, causing opposing muscle groups to work harder.
- Muscle fatigue can lead to muscular injuries and the inability to protect the joints from more severe injuries.
- Decreased flexibility can also lead to added stress on structures and tissues in a different body area from the source of the inflexibility.
- An example is tendonitis in the knee can be related to calf tightness.
Stretching Routine Benefits
Research has shown that stretching can help improve flexibility and, as a result, the range of motion of the joints. Benefits include:
- Improved performance in physical activities.
- Improved ability with daily activities.
- Decreased risk of injuries.
- Increase circulation.
- Improved muscle function.
Flexibility can be measured with functional tests. These tests measure the joint’s range within common movement patterns. Using these tests, areas of inflexibility can be identified and addressed. The tests look at the following:
- Neuromuscular coordination.
- How the muscles return to a normal resting state.
- Blood circulation and recirculation.
- Typical assessment areas include the lower back, hips, hamstrings, knees, and feet.
Stretching the Body
Developing a regular stretching routine to be incorporated into a training program is recommended. A stretching routine should cover all the major muscle groups of the body as well as any specific muscle groups. Implementing a physical therapy stretching program can help individuals stay motivated, as gaining flexibility takes time. It can take several weeks of consistent, regular stretching for improvement.
- Stretching with a physical therapist will target the largest areas of inflexibility.
- Stretching sessions can be 20 minutes or more.
- Once these areas have been addressed, the therapist will move on to more specific areas.
- The therapist will train the individual how to stretch at home.
The therapist will provide specific guidelines that should be followed for stretching at home:
- Stretching when muscles are cold could lead to a strain or pull.
- Warming up before stretching is recommended as it increases the blood flow and temperature of the muscles, ligaments, and tendons, improving the elasticity and functioning of the tissues.
- Begin each stretch slowly and gently.
- Maintain the stretch position for 30 seconds, and gradually increase to 1-2 minutes.
- Maintain a regular breathing pattern when stretching.
- Stay relaxed, and do not bounce.
- There should be pulling or tightness but not pain.
- Static stretching should gradually go through the full range of motion until the resistance is felt.
- Stretch to the point of tightness and then just beyond.
- Gradually release the stretch.
- Repeat daily.
A stretching therapy program keeps the body loose and effectively increases the mobility of all soft tissues.
Full Body Stretching
Behm DG. Does stretching affect performance? In: The Science and Physiology of Flexibility and Stretching. Kindle edition. Routledge; 2019.
Berg, K. Stretching fundamentals. In: Prescriptive Stretching. 2nd ed. Kindle edition. Human Kinetics; 2020.
Ghasemi, Cobra, et al. “The effect of soft tissue manipulation and rest on knee extensor muscles fatigue: Do torque parameters and induced perception following muscle fatigue have enough reliability?.” Journal of family medicine and primary care vol. 9,2 950-956. 28 Feb. 2020, doi:10.4103/jfmpc.jfmpc_838_19
Gordon BT, et al., eds. Flexibility assessments and exercise programming for apparently healthy participants. In: ACSM’s Resources for the Exercise Physiologist. 3rd ed. Kindle Edition. Wolters Kluwer; 2022.
Hui, Alexander Y et al. “A systems biology approach to synovial joint lubrication in health, injury, and disease.” Wiley interdisciplinary reviews. Systems biology and medicine vol. 4,1 (2012): 15-37. doi:10.1002/wsbm.157
Lindstedt, Stan L. “Skeletal muscle tissue in movement and health: positives and negatives.” The Journal of experimental biology vol. 219, Pt 2 (2016): 183-8. doi:10.1242/jeb.124297
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