Stability, Mobility, Flexibility – Getting it right
While the act of moving may seem simple enough, there is more than one factor at play, determining the quality of our movements
As human beings, nature designed us to move. Power, agility and suppleness vary not just amongst different people, but also among various body parts. This is where terms like ‘mobility’, ‘flexibility’, ‘stability’ get thrown around, often in a confused manner.
The human body is a stack of joints alternating between stable and mobile regions, forming what is called the stability-mobility continuum. This forms the crux of human biomechanics. As we move, we place ourselves through this continuum, based on the demands of movement. To understand movement, it is important to correctly understand various terms associated with it.
Joint mobility refers to the uninhibited movement around the joint. It’s the degree to which an articulation (where two bones meet i.e. a joint) can move freely without being hindered by surrounding tissues (muscles/tendons/ligaments); aka ‘range of motion’ around a joint. Try rotating your arm in a full circle to see how mobile the shoulder joint is.
Stability is the ability to control joint movement or position. This is a product of the combined action of surrounding tissues and the neuromuscular system. Different joints, in tandem with surrounding tissues, need to play their dominant roles (by virtue of their position in the skeletal system) as stabilizers or mobilisers to the right degree, to maintain postural integrity, balance, and produce fluid movement. Surrounding tissues play a vital role in determining movement outcomes. They can facilitate or hinder a joint in its role.
Flexibility is the ability of connective tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments) to lengthen or stretch. Like a good rubber band they should stretch when needed, to allow movement without pain or injury.
How are flexibility and mobility connected?
To have good joint mobility, it is essential to have good muscle flexibility. It’s the muscles (and connective tissues) that allow movement around a joint. They are connected to the bones. So the flexibility of these tissues impacts the range of motion of a joint. If they aren’t supple or elastic enough, they can limit movement around the joint. While there could be other factors impeding movement, flexibility of muscles is what we are focusing on here.
Diminishing flexibility may not seem like a big deal, but it’s an important ingredient to staying limber as we age, and a natural casualty of the ageing process. One way of facilitating flexibility is through stretching. Given the link between flexibility and mobility, stretching becomes part of the wider ambit of mobility.
How to stretch? A brief guide on types of stretches and when to do them.
This involves repeatedly and progressively moving a joint through its range of motion without holding a position.
Dynamic stretches are effective before workouts and activity to warm up muscles. These include shoulder rotations, neck rolls, making circles with arms outstretched, ankle rotations, repeated leg lifts/swings, butt kicks, dynamic cat-camel stretch. This could also include performing non-weighted sets of similar exercises before lifting weights in the gym, such as bicep curls, triceps kick-backs, shoulder raises. Good to do for 10 minutes as warm-up depending on intensity of following activity.
Holding a stretch for 30 seconds or so. No bouncing or dynamic movement. These are effective post activity, to enable contracted muscles to lengthen. It is important to ease into them, and not perform them on muscles that aren’t adequately warmed up. It’s equally important not to overstretch as this could lead to injury.
A full-body stretch
Start with the all-fours position on the floor, hands shoulder-width apart, legs hip-width apart. Exhale as you lift your knees off the floor, straightening them to form an inverted ‘V’. Push your body weight into the palms and hips up towards the ceiling. Keep neck neutral, body weight evenly distributed between palms. Hold. Slowly lower back to starting position by bending knees.
Look up our Visual Guide to 36 useful stretches here:
**Read the published version of this article in THE HINDU here