By David P. Brungo, PT, Expert Contributor, Summerville PT & Balance Rehab for Adults
The Importance of Flexibility to Proper Posture and Pain-Free Healthy Function
When my patients ask me what the most important contributors are to feeling good and moving well throughout Life, I always talk to them about proper posture and the importance of having good flexibility. Flexibility in this respect refers to having your muscles and other soft tissues in our bodies at their intended, optimally healthy length. In other words, we’re not too tight or too loose in our muscles. Correct flexibility is, simply put, critical to so many things we need to do well in order to feel well.
For example, let’s say we’re tight in our hamstrings. It follows, then, that we will most definitely have bad posture as it relates to the position and movement of our pelvis, hips and low back. TRANSLATION: Having tight hamstrings means unhealthy pulling on our pelvis so that we’re sitting too much toward or directly on our tailbones instead of sitting upright with good posture. This in turn leads to a flattened low back curve (aka, a flattened lordosis), which in turn reduces our spinal mobility. All of this together usually leads to chronic low back pain, reduced hip and trunk mobility, trigger points and other assorted muscular aches and pains, and maybe even skin breakdown on our tailbones (not fun at all and may even lead to a bad infection that knocks us down for good!)
So – even if you don’t read further, the take home message is this: Endeavor to improve your flexibility — you’ll feel better and live a healthier Life!
Staying active and stretching regularly help prevent a general loss of mobility. Healthy mobility preserves independence as we age. Our muscles need to be at their intended proper length in order to function at their best while providing the best possible joint support. This helps reduce destructive forces on our joints, which preserves joint health further into life so that you’re less likely to need medical interventions such as steroid injections and corrective joint surgeries. It also means that you’ll walk, run, play out in the yard with your kids, their kids and their kids’ kids, golf or play tennis, hike trails or climb mountains, or do whatever it is you love to do – LONGER and MORE COMFORTABLY as you get older!!!
You don’t need to take my word for it as a physical therapist with 30+ years in the clinic treating adults of all ages – but then again, maybe you should. There is clear scientific evidence showing that we are a lot less likely to have an injury when we include flexibility training into our daily routines. This is due to the fact that we can move more freely through a fuller range of motion at our joints. However, an exception exists when we have excessive flexibility, which results in more instability at our joints. This problem may increase the likelihood of injury. So, when used appropriately, regular flexibility training allows us to become more “in tune” with our bodies, which facilitates better mental and physical health, injury prevention and recovery after an injury.
There are different ways to stretch and different schools of thought on the matter. One source online that does a great job at describing these different ways, their pros and cons, and some other really important aspects of stretching can be found at the Human Kinetics webpage (found at: humankinetics.com). There you’ll find information about technique, such as how intensely to stretch, how long to hold stretches and how often you should stretch, as well as what is meant by static versus dynamic stretching along with the pros and cons of each.
Physical Therapists Can Identify Flexibility Dysfunction & Help You Understand Your Signs & Symptoms
A good PT will help you right away with stretching exercises and sometimes strengthening exercises to complement your flexibility efforts. You really can’t simply do an adjustment and correct poor flexibility or muscle imbalance, but sometimes these issues cause significant spinal malalignment. Thus, PT and/or Chiropractic care can be helpful when you need a neck, back or other joint adjustment.
If you’re not sure whether your flexibility is good or bad, here is a great test you should do (YES — RIGHT NOW) to determine if you have proper and healthy hamstring length. It’ll only take a few seconds:
- Sit flat on either the floor or top of your bed mattress;
- Be sure to sit on your “sit bones” (the bones you feel in the deep muscle of your buttocks. You usually take note of these bones after sitting on a hard flat bench for too long);
- Be sure to “sit tall” with your back totally vertical (i.e., like a Marine stands when at “Attention!”) Suck in your gut and brace your abs to hold that tall sitting position;
- Try to put both legs totally straight out in front of you (this is called the “Long Sitting” position), making sure your knees are completely straight and that your knees and toes are pointing “due North;”
***RESULTS & INTERPRETATION: If (a) you CAN’T sit tall properly when you have your legs out in front of you in the proper long sitting position, or (b) you CAN sit tall but you CAN’T get your knees flat down and in proper long sitting position, then your hamstrings are almost definitely TOO SHORT. If this is the case for you, you likely have been having low back pain and possibly have had some irritation of the skin over your tailbone at one time or another. Both of these problems are easily corrected by some really good physical therapy where you’ll learn the extent to which you are limited and how to fix it so you feel better fast. You’ll also be taught how to keep it from happening again. You’ll end your PT feeling much better and knowing how to manage your flexibility independently.
Should you feel that you might need some expert help with your flexibility, consider calling us at Summerville PT & Balance at 843-209-6375 or just let your doctor know you’d like to be referred to Summerville PT & Balance for some help with your flexibility. You’ll soon be experiencing a healthier, more active and pain-free Life!
(Adapted from, “The importance and purpose of flexibility” (Oct. 2017); found online at: http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/the-importance-and-purpose-of-flexibility)