- Flexibility refers to the LENGTH of a muscle and is just a part of overall MOBILITY.
- MOBILITY refers to how a joint moves through its full range of movement, i.e. when you reach for something, is the muscle long enough to fully reach or does your whole shoulder and back move too? Good flexibility means that the joint moves as freely as it should i.e. has good mobility and there is no substitution of other muscles or inappropriate joint movement in order to complete that reaching forwards movement.
- You cannot have full leg and arm MOBILITY without first creating STABILITY in your spine for the arms and legs to work from!
- Muscles tighten up to protect a joint if there is instability.
- Tightness is secondary to weakness – you FEEL tightness but it is CAUSED by weakness. When muscles are tight they are often also WEAK.
- Weak muscles are muscles that are receiving distorted input from your brain (Central Nervous System).
- You need to CONTROL the range of motion of your joints in order to avoid injury. Control comes from your Central Nervous System. You must train the connection between the brain and the muscle to achieve control of your movements so that you do not move incorrectly and cause pain or long term damage. When you synchronise your movement patterns by training the connection between your brain and muscles, you create DYNAMIC STABILISATION. This means that you can move correctly because you have adequate flexibility and you are not over loading your joints when you do move because you have adequate stability.
Thus there is a difference between flexibility and stability but the two are absolutely necessary to us all for painfree movement.
- Stability is where a strong base exists so that the joint can be correctly aligned when it moves. It is necessary in order that you move as efficiently as you can and you don’t overload your muscles, tendons, ligaments or joints, which will sooner or later cause pain.
- To achieve optimum flexibility and stability we must address both the nervous system and the musculoskeletal systems. This is why a combination of chiropractic treatment and exercises is thought to be the best way to create the correct balance between flexibility and stability.
Chiropractors will detect any compensatory patterns of muscle weakness or tightness or joint tightness or instability you have developed and help you to restore better movement patterns. You need to recognize what you are doing wrong in order to correct the problem. If you have joint tightness Chiropractors will restore joint mobility issues with manipulation and mobilization. Both mobility and strength are necessary for joint stability and overall strength. You are only as strong as your weakest link. You must be able to recognise your weak links and correct them as much as you can appropriately.
People are often told to stretch muscles to improve flexibility – this is not always appropriate! A great example of this is people that feel that they have tight hamstrings and try to increase their flexibility by stretching them out. Most of the time the hamstrings aren’t really the problem, it is a lack of overall mobility at the hips that causes the hamstrings to tighten up to make up for the lack of stability that results. If you address the hip mobility issue and allow the hips to get into better alignment then the hamstrings will relax on their own.
You can gain 6+ inches range of motion when touching your toes by improving pelvis and hip mobility then using foam rollers and stretching of the quads and hip flexors. Tight quads and hip flexors pull the pelvis out of alignment and the hamstrings tighten up in an attempt to provide stability and to keep the pelvis from getting even more out of alignment. That bad alignment will cause a decrease in spinal stability and since strength and power are built on stability, they will be affected as well.
Therefore you need to be examined to determine where IS your weak link. Is it that you have insufficient stability or not enough flexibility? Unless you know, you don’t know what to do for the best. Instability can lead to disc problems – a serious problem that can lead to significant back pain — and even nerve pain in one of the legs.
Dr. Stuart McGill, an expert in spinal biomechanics and author of Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance, points to long hours sitting as a significant risk factor for the development of low back problems. This flexed position of the spine, exacerbated by the desk worker’s all-too-common long day of sitting at a computer or in a car, can weaken and injure the spinal discs.
McGill’s prevention advice starts with breaking up long periods of sitting. Additionally he recommends that those with back pain should be cautious about early-morning bike rides or long car journeys, when the fully hydrated discs are at their most vulnerable stage.
While we instinctively like to stretch the lower back when it’s sore, several studies suggest that mobilising the spine is best left to physical therapists and chiropractors who can assess if it is needed
You don’t need Cirque du Soleil-type flexibility to stay pain-free. McGill recommends focusing on “tuning up” any asymmetries in hamstrings and hip flexibility to lessen stress to the back.
Athletes can be very fit but still functionally very weak in critical areas such as the core. Thus it is essential to talk to a chiropractor who will help you to match your exercises to your problem, with the best results coming with a focus on lower back strengthening. While McGill points to the importance of overall core strengthening for injury prevention and performance, he cautions against a reliance on crunches and sit-ups. In fact, the role of these exercises in avoiding back pain may be overrated; one study of Japanese triathletes found that those who performed more abdominal exercises had higher rates of back pain.
There are better exercises for abdominal strength training that we can advise you do.
While back pain is common for athletes and non-athletes, it doesn’t necessarily mean a significant problem exists – it is probably due to a repetitive strain injury that is caused by an imbalance between FLEXIBILITY and MOBILITY and although it can become chronic when left untreated, it is never too late to try to correct the imbalances – you just need to be taught to develop that DYNAMIC STABILITY so that you can move fully but from a stable base. This reduces your pain and the likelihood of developing degeneration in your joints from using them incorrectly!