The Importance Of Mobility And Flexibility by Dr. Chris Demczar, DC, MS, CSCS
Have you ever thought “gosh, I could do ______ if I was more mobile!” I hear a lot of people say this often, referring to their entire body or specific joints, and let it be their reason for not accomplishing some of their goals. The funny thing is, lots of these goals require being able to move, and to become more mobile you have to move as well. So what I am getting at is if you move more, you will keep/increase your mobility, and be able to do whatever you set your mind too!
Gaining back your mobility is not a difficult task, but similar to your adjustments, it takes time, repetition, and consistency to see the results that you want. So let’s break down what you need to know and do to be able to increase the mobility in your life.
When we discuss joint mobility, it’s important to understand that each joint has an ideal range of mobility that allows for optimal function. For perspective, the knee joint is always going to seem less mobile than the adjacent hip joint because its function requires less range of motion than the hip. But if the knee is functioning ideally and the hip is not, the knee may be more mobile than the hip. What is even more profound is that the knee may compensate to increase its mobility past what would be considered normal to try and allow the leg to maintain its global mobility. This would be of negative consequence to the leg, and then over time can you guess what has to compensate next? You guessed it, the spine!
One way to define mobility is the ideal combination of flexibility and stability. A prominent strength and conditioning coach, Dan John, best explains this concept in a simple way using his joint by joint approach. The premise is our joints alternate functioning as a joint of either increased flexibility or stability. Sticking with the legs, the ankle joint should have more flexibility than stability, so that there is more range of motion. Going up the kinetic chain to our knees, they are more stable than flexible, which helps us to walk, run, and move without flopping over onto the ground. Then our hips are more flexible, and our pelvis is more stable. Looking at our spine, the lumbar spine (low back) is more flexible, our thoracic spine (mid back) is more stable, and our cervical spine (neck) is more flexible.
Continuing this pattern into the arm, our scapulothoracic joint is more stable, our shoulder is more flexible, the elbow is more stable, and our wrists are more flexible than stable.
Using this model, it can help us to understand a few concepts related to joint dysfunction. As mentioned earlier, when a mobile joint decreases its range of motion, an adjacent stable joint will have a change of forces on it trying to make that stable joint more mobile, which can lead to compensations in how that joint is used. To top that off, the stable joint can be very painful, which leads to further disuse and reduced movement, perpetuating the cycle of decreasing global mobility in a person. So the next time you feel a strain on your knee with no direct cause, consider if it could be a lack of hip or ankle mobility that is causing your knee to compensate in an unfavorable pattern.
So the bottom line is… how to apply this information? If you are looking to increase your mobility, keep it simple! If you are mostly sedentary during the day, the best way to start is to move more. Whether it’s going for a walk or doing chores, increase the time spent moving during the day. According to the ACSM, you should ideally be getting at least 2 full hours of mild to moderate intensity movement daily. This alone will help to start unwinding any compensatory patterns you have developed and help to pinpoint specific deficiencies that you need to correct.
Fun fact: In the exercise world, the Functional Movement Screen, or FMS, is used to gauge the global mobility of our joints. Take an afternoon or evening and try the 7 tests of your bodies flexibility to see how well you score.
You can download the at home guide by visiting: http://www.advanced-fitness-concepts.com/fms.pdf
You can reach out to me to briefly discuss your next steps towards increased flexibility. Let’s figure out a plan to get you more mobile! I can be emailed at email@example.com