Flexibility is defined as the ability of a joint to move through its normal range of motion during function. Perhaps the best means of defining flexibility is with an example. For many people the hamstring muscles in the back of the thigh lack normal flexibility. For these folks a stretching sensation is felt in the back of the thigh when they attempt to bend forward and touch their toes while keeping their knees straight. Normal flexibility would allow them to touch the floor without a stretching sensation in their hamstring muscles. A standard for normal flexibility has been established for each large joint in the body.
In general, more women then men exhibit normal flexibility and we all tend to loose some level of flexibility as we age. There are many reasons why normal flexibility is important. Here are a few:
- Poor flexibility leads to added stress to the muscles and tendons that are inflexible. This leads to muscle strains and tendonitis and can also lead to excessive stress being applied to surrounding tissue such as the back or neck.
- Poor flexibility often prevents you from maintaining normal posture.
- Poor flexibility can prevent normal movement. An example would be tight calf muscles that prevent normal ankle movement. Without normal ankle movement you can not walk correctly which will in turn lead to excessive stress being placed on tissue in the foot, ankle, knee, hip and even the back.
Flexibility is not usually a cause for concern for most of us until we develop pain. Pain is usually a result of inflammation or swelling in the tissue that hurts. Once inflammation is developed poor flexibility can lead to a continuation of the inflammation and prevent healing. Believe it or not but just about anyone can restore normal flexibility in about two months time with gentle consistent stretching. If you feel like you do not have normal flexibility and would like to have your flexibility assessed please contact your physician for an examination and either your physician or a physical therapist can design a stretching program specific to your needs with detailed instruction in the proper way to stretch.
Your posture is also very important. We have all been told by our parents and teachers to stand up straight and many of us have told our own children to do the same. This is wonderful advice, some of the best advice that has ever been given to us or that we have given. Each day we fight gravity as it seeks to pull us to the ground. The better job we do at maintaining an upright posture the better we are able to fight the forces of gravity. If we “slump” while we sit or stand we give in to the forces of gravity and in a sense collapse on ourselves. Chronically bad posture leads to poor flexibility, muscle pain and can also lead to bony changes in our spine. As time goes by some postural changes become permanent but at least some improvement can be seen in almost everyone.
In particular the back and neck are affected by poor posture. Our spine is made of many different bones called vertebrae that are connected to each other by bands of dense tissue called ligaments and by muscles. Ligaments and muscles are tissues that can be excessively stretched with poor posture. The muscles and ligaments of our back and neck are designed to operate most efficiently with our spine in a certain position – an upright posture. When we deviate from that posture, especially for a long time, the muscles and ligaments become weaker and inflamed. This further weakens the tissue and strains and sprains become much more prevalent.
If you feel that your posture is not what it should be please discuss this with your doctor. He or she may advise you on a program to improve your posture or they may refer you to a physical therapist that will be able to develop an exercise program specifically for you and review with you proper postural alignment. You can start correcting your posture today and make a significant impact on how your spine feels in your retirement years as well as now.