Flexibility vs. Mobility — What's the Difference?

Flexibility, Mobility, and Physiotherapy

Due to the pandemic, more and more people like you and I have been stuck at home trying to find creative ways to workout and stretch after a long day of #WFH. There has been a massive influx of exercise content on the web and social media, where “flexibility” and “mobility” exercises are shown. These two words seem to sometimes be used interchangeably when they in fact have very different meanings. Here’s a quick breakdown of what they are, their importance, and when to implement them!

Flexibility refers to the ability of a muscle to lengthen. Flexibility stretches, therefore, have a direct consequence on the muscle, and indirectly impact the joint range of motion. For example, dancers performing a hamstring stretch to increase their splits is considered a static flexibility exercise. There are different types of stretches that can allow you to achieve better muscle flexibility. For example, static stretching is the more popular type, where the muscle is passively held in a lengthened position or until the point of discomfort. Stretching duration depends on your age, but usually >15 seconds is sufficient to generate a change in muscle length overtime. With regards to sports and performance, this type of stretch is most beneficial after a workout to lower muscle tension, promote circulation, and decrease the chances for muscle soreness. There is a growing body of research proving that static stretching utilized as a warm-up prior to strength and power training can significantly hinder performance and increase the risk for injury!

Mobility, on the other hand, is the ability for a joint to be moved actively through its available range of motion. For example, performing active ankle circles is a great way to maintain or gain range of motion, maintain joint health, prevent falls, and decrease joint stiffness. Mobility can be closely associated with flexibility, as the lack of range of motion in the muscles attached to a particular joint can in turn reduce its mobility. However, decreased muscle flexibility is not necessarily the only factor for the lack of range in a joint. For example, the capsule around the joint itself can also become tight and restrict joint range. For these reasons, mobility exercises in addition to flexibility exercises are key at improving joint range altogether.

Whether it is to improve your sports performance or get you through your rehab journey, both mobility and flexibility drills can help you achieve your range of motion goals. Questions about how you can best implement these exercises? Physiotherapists at Peak Form Physiotherapy are trained to assess and treat joint mobility and flexibility. Don’t hesitate to give us a ring for your next appointment!

References
Behm, D. G., Blazevich, A. J., Kay, A. D., & McHugh, M. (2016). Acute effects of muscle stretching... Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquee, nutrition et metabolisme, 41(1), 1–11. https://doi-org.proxy.bib.uottawa.ca/10.1139/apnm-2015-0235.
Page P. (2012). Current concepts in muscle stretching... International journal of sports physical therapy, 7(1), 109–119.
The Importance of Flexibility and Mobility. (2016, October 31). Retrieved from https://sites.psu.edu/kinescfw/health-education/exercise-articles/the-importance-of-flexibility-and-mobility/

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