By: Jimmy Haley
Flexibility and mobility are two factors of healthy living that are frequently overlooked. Most people tend to focus on other important pieces of healthy living (such as diet and exercise) and allow flexibility and mobility to fall to the wayside. These two factors of healthy living actually have a much larger role than commonly realized. Being flexible and having full joint mobility can have several beneficial implications on quality of life, including: reducing day-to-day pain and increasing vascular health.
Most people suffer from many forms of day-to-day pain, the most common form being lower back pain. Approximately 8 out of 10 people suffer from chronic lower back pain (Jenkins 2016). This irritating and lasting pain inhibits many people from performing daily activities and having a normal quality of life. Many forms of lower back pain are actually caused by the immobility and inflexibility of the body. An example is lower back pain caused by inflexible or tight hamstrings.
The hamstrings connect to the bottom of the pelvis, and when they are tight and inflexible they can pull downwards on the pelvis. This can cause the pelvis to, in turn, pull on the structures of the lower back and force it into a more rounded position (Wishhart 2014). This excessively rounded lower back causes pressure and weight to be placed improperly, which leads to soreness and pain. This pain can be worsened by sitting in poor posture for extended periods of time. Working on increasing flexibility of the hamstrings has shown to lessen lower back pain in some individuals.
Back pain not only takes a toll on quality of life, but also can impact working productivity. Integrated Benefits Institute, the leading workforce health and productivity research organization, found that employees experiencing low back pain costs employers $51,400 annually per 100 employees in lost productivity and medical treatments. Lost work time and underperformance at work make up over two-thirds of the cost of employee lower back pain to employers. Workers with lower back pain were less able to perform consistently in their roles when compared to workers without lower back pain. Most cases of lower back pain can actually be resolved in a relatively short time using low cost workplace methods such as job accommodation (Bryla 2013).
Flexibility can also have effects on mortality. One study published a few years ago found that people who had poor flexibility when examined in a testing environment also had an increased chance at having a certain risk factor for cardiovascular disease (Yamamoto 2009). Studies such as this demonstrate that flexibility is a serious component of overall health, and is nothing to ignore. Increasing flexibility through stretching has shown to have several positive effects, including: lowering blood pressure and reducing chronic joint pain.
Mobility is closely linked to flexibility in that both affect the body’s ability to function properly. Mobility refers to the ability of a joint to move freely through its range of motion. Inflexibility of muscles can lead to changes in joint mobility, as reflected in the lower back pain case presented earlier. Tight muscles do not allow joints to reach the full extent of their range of motion, which can lead to pain and injury. Not being able to have full function of a joint can cause injury when performing physical activities. Increasing mobility through flexibility is very important, and should be done proactively instead of reactively (Sun 2015). This means that working on mobility should ideally be done to prevent problems, not address current problems. One of the ways to increase mobility is through soft tissue work.
Soft tissue work is a broad topic with several methods, including foam rolling and massage. These methods use the idea of myofascial release to increase mobility. Myofascial release is the technique of applying pressure to connective tissue in order to help eliminate pain and restore motion (Barnes 2016). It has been shown to reduce inflammation and pain in the targeted area. This is a simple technique that can be done individually using foam rollers commonly seen in fitness centers. Combining foam rolling with stretching can help improve mobility and flexibility, and further improve overall health.
Flexibility and mobility are key components to health of an individual. These two components of health have beneficial effects on total health and wellness over a lifetime. Effectively increasing flexibility and mobility can increase joint and cardiovascular health. Many conditions such as lower back pain can be quickly resolved with proper work on flexibility, which can lead to improved quality of life and work productivity. There are also many methods to increase mobility and flexibility, including foam rolling and static stretching.
Jenkins, B. (2016). How to Stop Your Lower Back Pain. Retrieved October 17, 2016, from https://breakingmuscle.com/mobility-recovery/how-to-stop-your-lower-back-pain
Wishhart, M. (2014). Lack of Flexibility & Back Pain. Retrieved October 17, 2016, from http://www.livestrong.com/article/125526-lack-flexibility-back-pain/
Bryla, J. (2013, October). Integrated Benefits Institute. Retrieved October 17, 2016, from https://www.ibiweb.org/events/low-back-pain-takes-toll-on-worker-health-productivity-integrated-benefits
Yamamoto, K. (2009, October). Poor trunk flexibility is associated with arterial stiffening. Retrieved October 17, 2016, from http://ajpheart.physiology.org/content/297/4/H1314.long
Sun, C. (2016). Mobility vs. Flexibility: What’s The Difference? – Invictus | Redefining Fitness. Retrieved October 17, 2016, from https://www.crossfitinvictus.com/blog/mobility-vs-flexibility-whats-the-difference/
Barnes, J. F. (2016). What is Myofascial Release? Retrieved October 17, 2016, from https://www.myofascialrelease.com/about/definition.aspx