We have all heard the common advice from health professionals to “stay mobile”. But, why exactly is this important? The most obvious answer is that you must stay mobile in order to move appropriately to perform a desired task, whether for sport or for basic daily activity. But perhaps one of the more important questions is not “why do I need to be mobile”, but instead, “what will happen if I am not?”.
Mobility, or the ability to move a joint, often follows the “use it or lose it” policy. If you do not move your body into certain positions, it may lose the ability to move in that position when required. As a result, it is possible to physically lose the capability of performing certain actions, such as lifting a weight in a certain direction, or even squatting down to the floor. This lack of mobility can also lead to injuries and persistent pain. A joint or muscle must move through a certain range of motion to distribute force throughout the body segment. An inability to distribute this force can result in too much pressure on certain structures, leading to pain. Furthermore, if a movement cannot come from one plane of movement, it will be made up for in another. This can cause compensation issues and problematic movement patterns. Lastly, if a joint cannot move the required amount in order to adapt to trauma, it can become damaged. Imagine stretching a rubber band. The more elastic the band is, the more it can stretch. A taught band will only allow a small amount of stretch before it breaks. Loosen the band and it will stretch further before it becomes damaged.
Below are a few exercises that target some of the main muscles groups that are often involved in general immobility. It is ideal to hold each stretch for 30 seconds, and repeat 3-4 times a day. Think of stretching as a spectrum. If a stretch is ever painful, ease off slightly.
The Figure 4 Stretch
This stretch focuses on hip rotation. All day, we sit and stand, working our hips through one plane of motion: frontwards and backwards. As a result, we often neglect the rotational component to our hips. The figure 4 stretch pictured above stretches the hips into external rotation.
The Knee to Opposite Shoulder Stretch On the opposite spectrum, the “knee to opposite shoulder” stretch is a gentle stretch that targets the lateral aspects of the hip, and stretches the hip into slight internal rotation. It also subtly helps with pelvic mobility by bringing the pelvis into a slight backwards rotation.
The Arm Roll
The Glenohumeral joint, or main join in your shoulder, is a multidirectional joint. As such, it is important to keep it mobile in all of its directions. The above pictures show one stretch that stretches the arm at end range. It can be performed several ways, each way targeting a different plane of motion.
Wrist Flexor and Extensor Stretch
Though this stretch targets much smaller muscles than the previous stretches, it is still a critical component of mobility. Whether you are constantly lifting weights, dangling a hockey stick, writing with a pencil, or typing on a keyboard, the muscles of the wrist and forearm pass multiple joints that can be negatively affected if they are tight.
There are many exercises that can make up a good mobility program. It is important to think about what movements are essential to your daily life and cater your exercises accordingly. We often do not realize the restraints present in our body until we test them. I encourage you to slowly experiment with your range of motion and take note of what feels restricted. Do not hesitate to reach out to a professional, such as a physiotherapist, for help.