CSEC PE Lecture: The importance of muscular flexibility
Flexibility is defined as the ability of a joint to move freely through its full range of motion. Health-care professionals and practitioners generally have underestimated and overlooked the contribution of good muscular flexibility to overall fitness and preventative health care. Most people who exercise do not take the time to stretch, and those who do stretch don't always do it properly.
Many muscular/skeletal problems and injuries experienced by individuals today are related to a lack of flexibility. In daily life, we often have to make rapid or strenuous movements we are not accustomed to making. A tight muscle that is abruptly forced beyond its normal range of motion often leads to injuries.
A decline in flexibility can cause poor posture and subsequent aches and pain that leads to limited and painful joint movement. According to a recent article, approximately 80 per cent of all low back problems stem from improper alignment of the vertebral column and pelvic girdle, which is a direct result of inflexible and weak muscle.
freedom of movement
Improving and maintaining good range of motion in the joints enhances the quality of life. Good flexibility promotes healthy muscles and joints. Improving elasticity of muscles and connective tissues around joints enhances freedom of movement and the individual ability to participate in all types of activities.
Taking part in a regular stretching programme also increases resistance to muscle injury and soreness, prevents low back and other spinal column problems, improves and maintains good postural alignment, promotes proper and graceful body movement, improves personal appearance and self-image and helps to develop and maintain motor skills throughout life.
In addition, flexibility exercises have been used successfully to treat dysmenorrheal (painful menstruation) and general neuromuscular tension (stress). Regular stretching helps decrease the aches and pains caused by psychological stress and contributes to a decrease in anxiety, blood pressure and breathing rate.
Furthermore, stretching exercises, in conjunction with calisthenics, are helpful in warm-up routines to prepare for vigorous aerobics or strength-training exercises, as well as in cool-down routines following exercise to facilitate the return to a normal resting state. Fatigue muscles tend to contract to a shorter-than-average resting length and stretching exercises help fatigue muscles re-establish their normal resting length.
Similar to muscular strength, good range of motion is critical in older life. Because of decreased flexibility, older adults lose mobility and are unable to perform simple daily task such as bending forward or turning. Many older adults do not turn their head or rotate their trunk to look over their shoulder but, rather, must step around 90 to 180 degrees to see behind them.
Physical activity and exercise can also be hampered severely by lack of good range of motion. Because of the pain during physical activity, older people who have tight hip flexor muscles cannot jog or walk very far. This condition usually worsens with further inactivity. A simple stretching programme can alleviate or prevent this problem.
Factors Affecting Flexibility
Total range of motion around a joint is highly specific and varies from one joint to another (hip, trunk, shoulder), as well as from one individual to another. Muscular flexibility relates primarily to genetic factors and to physical activity. Beyond that, factors such as joint structure, ligaments, tendons, muscles, skin, tissue injury, fat, body temperature, age and sex influence range of motion around a joint.
The range of motion about a given joint depends mostly on the structure of that joint. Greater range of motion, however, can be attained through plastic and elastic elongation. Plastic elongation is the permanent lengthening of soft tissue. This is best attained through slow, sustained stretching exercises.
Joint capsules, ligaments and tendons are non-elastic. However, they can undergo plastic elongation. Elastic elongation is the temporary lengthening of soft tissue. Muscle tissue has elastic properties and respond to stretching exercises by undergoing elastic or temporary lengthening, thus increasing the extensibility of the muscles.
Changes in muscle temperature can increase or decrease flexibility. Properly warmed individuals have better flexibility. Cool temperature has the opposite effect, impeding range of motion. The amount of adipose tissue (fat) around joints and muscle tissues will increase resistance to movement, and the added bulk also hampers joint mobility because of the contact between body surfaces.
On average, women have more flexibility than men and seem to retain this advantage throughout life. The two most significant contributors to lower flexibility levels are sedentary lifestyles and lack of physical activity.