Safe Flexibility and Mobility Training

Want to improve your flexibility? Get all the latest tips from one of our Physios Jean

We all want to be more flexible – whether it’s from an injury or to reach our own goals. The most common way of stretching that we see is passive stretching – holding a stretch until you get a release – but is this the quickest or safest way to improve our mobility? While this may be appropriate in some situations, excessive passive stretching may only be putting a band-aid on a bigger issue. It might be addressing the wrong type of mobility, or in some cases, cause or contribute to long-term issues. 


Postural stiffness


With our lives becoming more and more entwined with technology and device usage, we see lots of people with neck, upper back and lower back stiffness. Even if this is not painful, it can be uncomfortable and if untreated, lead to issues further down the track. A physiotherapist can help diagnose the underlying causes of this stiffness and help improve and prevent it. 


If you are desk based, we can discuss different work set-ups at the office or a work-from-home setting to tailor it to your body. If you are spending one third of your day at your desk, it needs to be comfortable and work for you!


We know that a great massage feels amazing when we’re stiff and sore but it’s only the first step to resolving chronic postural stiffness. If you are someone who really enjoys a good remedial massage but find that you need to keep going for a ‘tune up’, I would highly recommend touching base with your local physiotherapist. Not only can your physiotherapist perform manual therapy and joint mobilisations to help ease your symptoms, we can also guide you through exercises to ease your stiffness long-term. We value the benefit of a good remedial massage or myotherapy session and may refer you to one as we start treatment, but it is important to remember that you may need more than that to resolve your stiffness. 



What limits our flexibility?


When we stretch, we often only think about stretching the muscles. However, there are many many structures that might be limiting our flexibility. Whether you are trying to touch your toes or do the splits, forcing our way into a stretch instead of identifying where the issue is, is the slowest and can be the most dangerous way to gain flexibility. 


Sometimes the restriction is in the joint itself such as cartilage or bone. If this is the case, we definitely do not want to force this stretch! Seeing a trusted physiotherapist can help diagnose if this is the case and help resolve or reduce your symptoms. Often in this case, you’ll can mobility as part of the healing process. 


Fascia is a thick, fibrous tissue in our bodies. Imagine it as a thick plastic sheet covering our muscle groups and forming attachment points for some of our muscles (such as your iliotibial band in your knee!). While fascia is incredibly strong and resistant to stretch, we can do movements to help mobilise our fascia by getting the muscles beneath it to slide and activate. While foam rolling fascia can feel great, it does very little to improve our mobility as the fascia is too strong to stretch by foam rolling. If you love the feeling of it, go ahead but there are ways to get better and faster results!


Another structure that can be limiting our mobility is our nerves. This can sometimes be confusing as it can feel like we are stretching a muscle. Many people will feel this in the calves, behind the knee or in the back of the thigh and mistake it for hamstring tightness. Neural tension can sometimes cause pins and needles, tingling and numbness but in others, it will just feel tight and like your movement just stops. Unfortunately, forcing a nerve to stretch often feels like you are just getting nowhere no matter how much you sit into your stretches. Sometimes you might even feel more tight or stiff after stretching! There are many reasons your nerves might be limiting your flexibility and it is important to be assessed by your physiotherapist as there can be so many different causes. 


Lastly, muscles can impact our flexibility. However, it is the last one we want to address after looking at joint, fascia and nerves. 


Hypermobility and Stretching


If you have read our previous blogs on hypermobility HERE and think you might be hypermobile, you might be wondering whether it is safe for you to stretch. Because hypermobility can be completely different from person to person, it is very hard to say what is and isn’t safe without being assessed in-person by your physiotherapist. Many hypermobile people actually experience lots of stiffness in their bodies despite being ‘extra flexible’. This is caused either by the excessive mobility at other joints, protective mechanisms of the body or a combination. Therefore mobility and strengthening work can be really effective at improving not only mobility in those who are hypermobile, but also strengthening our stabilising muscles that we use everyday. This can help reduce injuries, manage fatigue and improve mobility. 


Flexibility in dance, circus and gymnastics


If you or your family are involved in dance, circus or gymnastics, you might have seen lots of static stretching in classes or even dangerous stretching techniques such as putting sandbags on your legs or even people sitting on top of you while you stretch! While this is the way many of the teachers learned to stretch, we now know that there are better and safer ways to gain flexibility. Extended or weighted passive stretching can cause issues further down the line, especially in children or young teens whose growth plates have not fused yet. 


If you have any questions or want to look into improving your flexibility or mobility in a safe way, please get in touch! Our physiotherapist Jean has done further training in safe mobility – even the extremes such as your splits, oversplits, needles and penchés!