Understanding Human Body Flexibility and How to Improve Yours

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It is no secret that some people are more flexible than others. Depending on what you do throughout the day and the types of demands you place on your body, your degree of flexibility may not seem all that important to you. But the truth is that even people who are mostly sedentary are affected by flexibility.

What is Flexibility?

Flexibility is basically the ability of your joints and muscles to move freely through their functional range of motion without pain or restriction. Newborn babies are extremely flexible because their joints and muscles are soft and elastic. Over time, daily movement patterns affect how muscles, connective tissues and joints develop and interact, and range of motion is gradually reduced.

Overuse of some areas of the body and underuse of others can create imbalances, with some tissues becoming overly tight, and others becoming too lax. Imbalances impact the efficiency and fluidity of movement, and can cause pain and instability. As we age, imbalances can lead to falls, joint problems and back pain.

It is important to note that more flexibility is not necessarily a good thing. In some instances, being too flexible can increase your risk of injury and reduce your functional performance. Optimal flexibility and range of motion holds your body in perfect alignment, enabling fluid movement and providing stability when sitting, standing and moving about.

Negative Effects of Poor Flexibility

Inadequate flexibility can make you feel stiff and achy, and make it more difficult to perform everyday activities. But the negative effects of poor flexibility go far beyond discomfort.

Poor flexibility can be harmful in several important ways:

  • Full range of movement helps improve and maintain the health of cartilage and other structures within the joint by increasing the flow of blood and nutrients to joint tissues and structures. Improved blood flow also increases the quality of synovial fluid, the lubricant that helps the bones within your joint glide smoothly, without friction. In weight-bearing joints like the knees and hips, a healthy joint capsule is especially important. Limited range of motion in the joints leads to structural degradation that can worsen over time.
  • Inflexible muscles fatigue more quickly, causing your body to compensate by recruiting other muscles to perform a physical task. This can lead to imbalances in muscle tension that affect posture and movement mechanics. It can also cause injury to the muscles, and limit their ability to support and protect the joints. For example, the muscles that surround the knee joint play an important role in stabilizing the knee, protecting it from ACL tears and other injuries.
  • Poor flexibility in one area of the body can cause stress in other areas by altering posture and shifting force loads in undesirable ways. For instance, tight hamstring muscles can contribute to back pain, and tightness in the shoulder girdle can cause neck pain and headaches. People who sit for long hours may develop tight hip flexor muscles that affect the low back and pelvic region, and contribute to a host of potential musculoskeletal disorders.
  • As people age, poor flexibility can cause a number of postural and motor problems that set them up for dangerous falls, limited mobility and a reduced quality of life.
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Factors that Influence Human Flexibility

There are fundamentally six key factors that determine your degree of flexibility:

  • The innate structure of individual joints: Joint range of motion is defined by joint structure. For example, the ball-and-socket structure of the hip and shoulder give them a broad range of motion. When uninhibited by overly tight muscles or connective tissue, the shoulder Is the most flexible joint in the body. By contrast, hinge joints like the elbow and knee have much more limited range of motion.
  • Age and gender: Females tend to naturally be more flexible than males due to bone structure and hormonal differences. Humans tend to become less flexible with age due to tissue degradation, reduced activity levels and other factors.
  • Connective tissue: Fascia and tendons can limit your flexibility because they are less elastic than muscle tissue. Low water content and reduced collagen production can make connective tissues denser and less flexible over time.
  • Lean muscle mass: Large bulky muscles reduce flexibility by getting in the way. For physically active people and athletes, there is often a tradeoff between muscle mass and flexibility.
  • Proprioceptors in the muscles and tendons: Proprioceptors are tiny sensors in your muscles and tendons that collect information about movement and force loads. Some proprioceptors are stretch inhibitors that cause your muscles to tighten up in response to excessive force, and some, like Golgi tendon organs, enable your muscles to stretch farther. Both actions are protective mechanisms that prevent injury.
  • Past injuries: Injuries to soft tissues cause a buildup of scar tissue that can restrict muscle elasticity and inhibit flexibility. Injuries can also cause you to develop fibrous nodules called myofascial trigger points that cause pain and restrict your range of motion. Damage to bones and joints can also impair flexibility.
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Benefits of Improved Flexibility

Improved flexibility can make a huge difference in your daily life. Some of the most important benefits include:

  • Improved blood circulation, with less pooling and lower risk of clots
  • Increased neuromuscular coordination for more fluid movement and less risk of injury
  • Healthier, more elastic muscle tissue
  • Improved joint function
  • Reduced stiffness, with fewer aches and pains
  • Improved sexual function and performance
  • Improved balance and reduced risk of falls
  • Reduced muscle fatigue and increased energy
  • Increased lung capacity and improved breathing
  • Reduced risk of back and joint pain
  • Improved posture and a more youthful appearance
  • Better gait mechanics
  • A variety of other important health benefits
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Things You Can Do to Improve Your Flexibility

There are a number of things you can do to improve and maintain flexibility, which will improve your overall quality of life in the long run:

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  • Dynamic warmup exercises: Moving your muscles and joints through their range of motion with body weight exercises or light resistance before a workout warms them up, increases flexibility and prevents injury.
  • Post-exercise stretches: Relaxed static stretches after a workout can increase flexibility and facilitate recovery.
  • Resistance training: Controlled weight lifting exercises that take your muscles and joints through their full range of motion can help increase flexibility.
  • Stress management: You tense up your muscles when you’re stressed, restricting movement and putting pressure on nerves. Learning to manage stress can reduce headaches, back pain, orofacial pain and more.
  • Breathing: Deep controlled breathing that engages your diaphragm can help you relax and relieve tension throughout your body.
  • Optimal hydration: Muscles need water to perform at their best and maintain elasticity, so drink up.
  • Therapeutic massage: Massage can help relieve tension, release muscle knots and improve connective tissue elasticity.
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Physical Therapy in NYC for Improved Balance and Flexibility

It can be difficult to achieve optimal balance and flexibility on your own, without some way to measure it. The sports therapy specialists at NYDNRehab use state-of-the-art technology and innovative training methods to identify deficient body mechanics, detect the source of imbalances, and help you achieve the best functional range of motion for your individual anatomy.

Some of our approaches include:

  • Biomechanical analysis
  • Gait analysis and retraining
  • DNS (dynamic neuromuscular stabilization)
  • Vestibular balance training
  • Red Cord therapy
  • Stability training
  • Postural training
  • Trigger point release techniques
  • Other therapies and methods to restore balance and promote optimal range of motion

Contact NYDNR today, and fine-tune your body for a lifetime of safe and functional movement.

130 West 42 Street Suite 1055, New York NY 10036
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In this instance, an athlete was originally diagnosed with minor quadriceps muscle strain and was treated for four weeks, with unsatisfactory results. When he came to our clinic, the muscle was not healing, and the patients’ muscle tissue had already begun to atrophy.

Upon examination using MSUS, we discovered that he had a full muscle thickness tear that had been overlooked by his previous provider. To mitigate damage and promote healing, surgery should have been performed immediately after the injury occurred. Because of misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment, the patient now has permanent damage that cannot be corrected.

The most important advantage of Ultrasound over MRI imaging is its ability to zero in on the symptomatic region and obtain imaging, with active participation and feedback from the patient. Using dynamic MSUS, we can see what happens when patients contract their muscles, something that cannot be done with MRI. From a diagnostic perspective, this interaction is invaluable.

Dynamic ultrasonography examination demonstrating
the full thickness tear and already occurring muscle atrophy
due to misdiagnosis and not referring the patient
to proper diagnostic workup

Demonstration of how very small muscle defect is made and revealed
to be a complete tear with muscle contraction
under diagnostic sonography (not possible with MRI)

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Complete tear of rectus femoris
with large hematoma (blood)

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Separation of muscle ends due to tear elicited
on dynamic sonography examination

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