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If you think becoming Gumby will fix your pain, think again.
Flexibility may not always be the answer.
I’m sure you’ve heard the terms ‘flexibility’ and ‘mobility’, but did you know there is a difference between them?
In the health and wellness industry, mobility and flexibility are often used synonymously. People often discuss stretching as the main component of improving these two things.
However, did you know that you can have good flexibility and poor mobility? Or that you can have mobility without flexibility?
Think about that for a moment. If you can have one without the other, does that mean that they are the same thing?
Simply put…nope! Flexibility and mobility do not mean the same thing. Although having more flexibility may improve your mobility and vice versa, the terms are not interchangeable. Flexibility is simply passive movement and mobility requires active movement.
Flexibility is defined as the ability of soft tissue structures (muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves) to move passively through a range of motion. To work on flexibility, you utilize external force (your hands, a stretch strap, a partner) to stretch into your available range of motion. Most often, your flexibility is not assessed in an active state.
Mobility is the ability of the human body to actively control movement through space. It requires adequate strength and motor control to move through an available range of motion. Although you may not have great flexibility, you can have good mobility in your available ranges!
So, let’s look at some real-life comparisons:
- A ballerina can pull her leg up to her head, but she does not have the control to move her leg through the same motion without assistance. In this case, she has good flexibility, but she is lacking mobility.
- A runner can pull their knee to their chest during a warmup and they can move their knee to their chest through the same range of motion without assistance. They have flexibility and mobility in this motion.
- An athlete can control hip rotation through a certain range of motion; however, passively their hip is tight and inflexible. This person has hip mobility in their available range and lacks flexibility.
Clients often enter our clinics discussing the need to become flexible to decrease their painful symptoms. In this scenario, we often discuss that flexibility may not always be the answer, and how having better mobility can help! Believe it or not, lacking flexibility can actually correspond to muscle weakness in a body part! Ultimately, having flexibility can help improve your mobility, but just stretching a tight muscle may not always improve your pain. Especially if there is poor muscular control in the region.
So, folks, next time you think that tightness and lack of stretching is the main issue, maybe it’s a bit more than that! Maybe you’re tight because you lack muscular control throughout a range of motion. Maybe adding in a little strength work first will make you feel better in the long run! Make sure that if you’re stretching, you’re strengthening and working on your mobility too! It’s not about being bendy but being in control!