April 17, 2017 - Emily Norcross
Flexibility and mobility are both very important to keeping our bodies healthy. But often, I find clients confusing the need for increased mobility with the need for increased flexibility.
Put simply: flexibility pertains to the length of the muscle and mobility is the ability to move through full range of motion. Limitations in mobility can be affected by decreased flexibility but more often mobility is limited by other factors including joint position, joint capsule tightness, and hypertonic muscles. We often incorrectly assume that if we are flexible then we won’t have difficulty getting through a full range of motion. This is flawed in many ways as you can be super flexible and still have joint tightness in places or conversely, you can have joint looseness and have very tight muscles surrounding it.
Here's an example: you try to complete a squat and no matter what you do you can’t get low enough OR you can get low enough but in order to do so your chest falls forward, your feet and knees collapse in or your heels come off the ground.
So many of us use a measurement, like the depth of a squat, as a marker of successful movement. But if we are compensating at other parts of the body we are putting the knees or the back at risk for injury as they are now in an unsafe position. Good mobility means you can go deep enough in your squat without making any other compensation movements.
So why does this all matter? Maybe you don’t squat and don’t want to start. Maybe you just want to get rid of your low back pain you have from sitting at your computer all day. Either person can benefit from improvements in mobility to improve movement patterns and decrease injury rates.
If you notice that you feel as if a joint gets stuck or pinches as you try to move into a position and it is different from the feeling of muscle tightness, it is likely a joint mobility issue. There are simple techniques you can do to self-treat decreases in joint mobility but you should consult a health care professional, such as an athletic trainer, physical therapist, or chiropractor, who can evaluate your movement and teach you appropriate was to improve your joint mobility. Use caution on self-treatment – not all joints need to increase mobility. There are some joints that are more common to be hypermobile and that brings an entirely different set of challenges.