What is Flexibility and How can I Improve it?

Flexibility is the range of motion available in a joint, such as the hip, or series of joints such as the spine.  Good flexibility improves your joint’s range of motion and allows the joints to easily accommodate the desired joint angles without undue stress on the tissues around them.  Therefore, it is vital for performance and injury prevention.

The right kind of flexibility exercise is absolutely critical for anyone involved in sports; otherwise four things invariably happen:

  • Restricted movement
  • Decrease performance
  • A breakdown in body tissues
  • Potential long term injuries

Flexibility is joint specific and sport specific. It cannot be assumed that someone is flexible just because they can touch their toes. That same person may not even be able to reach around and scratch the small of his back because their shoulder has poor flexibility.  Furthermore, you would not expect a 300 pound lineman to have the same flexibility as an Olympic gymnast, because it is not required for his sport. In fact, in a contact sport being that flexible could be detrimental to an athlete’s body.

Flexibility is both static and dynamicStatic flexibility describes range of motion. It is the maximum range a muscle can achieve with an external force such as gravity or manual assistance, i.e., holding a hamstring stretch at an end-of-range position or having a partner applies manual resistance.  Dynamic flexibility describes the range of motion at a desired speed, i.e., a baseball pitcher or tennis player needs a lot of shoulder rotational flexibility, but needs to produce it at rapid speed.

Good flexibility improves posture, ergonomics and resolves pain.  Stretching, which improves flexibility, also forms an integral part of rehabilitation programs following injury.  For example, it is accepted that a muscle tear will heal with scar tissue. This scar tissue tends to be functionally shorter and have more resistance to stretch than normal healthy muscle tissue. Therefore stretching is used at an appropriate time in the healing process to assist in lengthening this contracted scar tissue.

A few helpful points about flexibility

  • Good static flexibility is necessary for good dynamic flexibility; however, having good static flexibility does not in itself ensure good dynamic flexibility
  • Dynamic flexibility is vitally important in those high velocity movement sports such as sprinting, kicking and jumping.
  • Dynamic flexibility is limited by the ability of the tissues to lengthen quickly, and the inhibition of what is called the ‘stretch reflex, which if present would act to limit the range of motion.

Dr. T.K. Dorsey




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