The Importance Of Flexibility For Injury Recovery And Mobility As We Age

August 31, 2020

The Importance Of Flexibility For Injury Recovery And Mobility As We Age

In this article:

  • Defining flexibility
  • Potential consequences of muscle tightness
  • What limits flexibility?
  • Ways to improve your flexibility
  • Stretching and its benefits
  • How aging affects flexibility
  • Flexibility-boosting supplements

It is obvious that for some people, such as dancers or gymnasts, flexibility is required by default. The movements of bending, twisting, and turning in ways you couldn’t fathom doing yourself are simply built into the activity. The last time you may have even put the word flexible next to your name may bring you back to your younger years when you could do the splits or simply reach down and touch your toes without bending your knees. You may notice how flexible (or inflexible) you are when warming up at the gym and stretching out a bit. If that is a part of your routine, that’s great. We encourage you to keep it going because flexibility is very important for healthy aging.

What is Flexibility?

Flexibility is the range of unrestricted motion in a joint or a series of joints or muscles. In other words, flexibility is the capacity of your muscles to stretch. The muscles in our bodies are made up of muscle fibers and cells grouped together and wrapped in connective tissue (fascia). Muscles are made to contract and stretch. Some people are more flexible than others, but everyone should have basic mobility. Flexibility can be increased through certain exercises and stretches. A person’s level of flexibility depends on many variables, including a lack of physical activity or stretching. The soft tissues around the joints, including --muscles, ligaments, tendons, joint capsules, and skin--impact the range of motion of a particular joint. For example, if the muscles are too tight, the joint's ability to move and perform everyday tasks is limited. If you never stretch, especially before or after performing physical activity, the soft tissue surrounding a joint can become fatigued and shortened over a period of time.

The Consequences of Muscle Tightness

Flexibility is often thought to be an importance reserved for those who play sports, exercise, or perform some form of intense physical activity. You may think that if you aren’t doing anything of the sort, flexibility is not important, however, being inflexible can come with negative effects on the body. As mentioned before, a minimum range of mobility is important for health. The full range of motion helps the cartilage and joints stay healthy because the movement increases blood supply and nutrients to the joints.

Muscle fatigue is a result of inflexibility in the muscles because if the muscles are inflexible and tight, opposing muscles have to work harder, leading to muscle injury.

What Limits Flexibility?

Internally

  • The type of joint: Not all joints are meant to be flexible; these joints are called synarthrodial and are found in the skull, teeth, and in between your forearms.
  • Bone structures that limit movement
  • Deep connective tissue (such as tendons and ligaments) that lack elasticity and plasticity. Over time, connective tissues can lose water content and the collagen in ligaments and tendons becomes thicker and less flexible, decreasing the muscle’s capacity to stretch. Large muscles can limit flexibility because muscle mass gets in the way. As the mass and density of a muscle increases, flexibility decreases.
  • The ability of a muscle to relax and contract
  • The temperature of the joint and tissues and temperature of location (warm temperatures tend to result in higher flexibility)
  • Age can limit flexibility because as the body ages, flexibility naturally decreases.

Externally:

  • Time of day: you’re the most inflexible in the early morning and become more flexible in the evening after warming up your muscles throughout the day
  • Stage in the process of recovering a joint or muscle post-injury. If a joint or muscle is injured, the likelihood of high flexibility is lower
  • Females tend to be more flexible than males
  • Ability to perform the task at hand, practicing a specific exercise, move, or stretch will increase the likelihood of achieving better flexibility
  • Consistency: The more you stretch a muscle, the more loose and flexible that area will become
  • Clothing restrictions (Some skinny jeans are just too skinny)

How to Improve Flexibility

Strength Training is important for improving flexibility because as you gain flexibility, the muscles must have the correct amount of tension in order to support your body and its movements.

Flexibility Training is the most important (and obvious) part of improving flexibility. Focusing on stretching the body with effective techniques that cover all major muscle groups can increase your flexibility. This can be done alone or under the direction of a physical therapist.

Components of Flexibility and Stretching Techniques

Dynamic Flexibility: This is the ability to move the muscles and joints through their full range of motion during active movement. This kind of flexibility improves your body’s ability to reach the full potential of movements when performing daily activities, exercises, and even sports. Dynamic flexibility improves performance and reduces the risk of injury. Stretching to achieve dynamic flexibility is typically done before you perform an activity in order to warm up the muscles.

Static Flexibility: This is the ability to hold an extended position at one end or point in a joint’s range of motion. In order to improve static flexibility, perform static stretching by holding a challenging yet comfortable position for 10-30 seconds. Static stretching is very common, and you have probably performed this technique without even realizing it. Think about a time you reached down to touch your toes while standing with your legs outstretched. Yes, that is a static stretching technique that focuses specifically on the hamstrings.

Relative Flexibility: Relative flexibility is an increase in mobility or frequency of movement in a joint adjacent to a body part with restricted mobility. Relative flexibility accounts for overuse or sprain of a joint that is a result of stiffness in an adjacent joint.

Benefits of Stretching

  • Increases your flexibility
  • Increases ranges of motion
  • Improves your performances in physical activities
  • Increases blood flow to your muscles
  • Improves your posture
  • Helps to heal and prevent back pain
  • Helps relieve stress

Flexibility and Aging

Flexibility is important at all ages. However, maintaining flexibility as you age is beneficial in reducing the risk of age-related injury, as well as maintaining good balance and keeping a good range of mobility so that you can keep doing the things you love.

As we age, muscle strength and size decrease and joints become stiff and less flexible. It’s important to do all you can to maintain healthy levels of flexibility in order to prevent injury and promote healing. Maintaining a consistent flexibility training routine can help ensure that stiff joints and muscle tightness do not get the best of you and cause unnecessary injury.

Don’t forget to supplement!

Building flexibility is primarily a physical task, but like most things, it is something that can and should also be addressed from the inside out. As you begin to focus on flexibility it may be beneficial to incorporate the following supplements into your daily routine for an extra boost:  

  • Collagen, fibrous protein that supports the connective tissues and helps improve flexibility, assisting in the recovery process of fatigued muscles.
  • Boswellia Serrata (also known as Indian Frankincense) helps ease stiff and sore joints and increases mobility.
  • Liposomal Glutathione alleviates muscle soreness and joint pain and reduces inflammation.
  • Vegan Omega-3 is a great plant-based way to help reduce inflammation, fatigue, and recovery times and to support the immune system during times of intense training.

Bottom Line

Flexibility is necessary for everyone at all ages, not just those looking to improve athletic performance or prevent sports injury. Stretching is the best way to improve flexibility; however, it is important to note that flexibility alone will not prevent injury -- it will only reduce the chance of it happening. Learning proper stretching techniques and routines is important, especially as a beginner. This way, you can avoid overuse and damage. Practice makes perfect and consistency is key!

Article Summary

  • Flexibility can be defined as the ability of your muscles to stretch, and it is extremely important in order to avoid injuries
  • Many internal and external factors limit flexibility, including body temperature, consistency, and even gender
  • Both strength and flexibility training may improve your overall flexibility
  • Flexibility can be static, dynamic, and relative. It also decreases significantly as we age
  • Specific supplements like collagen, omega-3, boswellia, and glutathione can help to promote flexibility & mobility as we age
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Article References:

  1. Flexibility | US Davis Sports Medicine. Retrieved on June 28, 2020. From https://health.ucdavis.edu/sportsmedicine/resources/flexibility_descriprion.html
  2. 12 Exercises for Dynamic Flexibility. Retrieved on June 28, 2020. From https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/dynamic-flexibility
  3. Relative Flexibility. Retrieved on June 28, 2020. From https://brookbushinstitute.com/glossary-term/relative-flexibility/
  4. Flexibility. Retrieved on June 28, 2020. From http://web.mit.edu/tkd/stretch/stretching_3.html#SEC21
  5. How to Become More Flexible (Because Yes, It’s Important). Retrieved on June 28, 2020. From https://www.everydayhealth.com/fitness/how-become-more-flexible-because-yes-its-important/




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