The Importance of Flexibility as We Age

We can maintain our flexibility and range of motion as we age by exercising and stretching on a daily basis. Keeping our bodies active will prevent loss of function and reduce stiffness in our joints.

As we age, we are not as flexible as when we were younger. So why is that?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Well, there can be several reasons that one loses flexibility as we age. One is actually a genuine loss of flexibility in the tissues. And as we get older we all have a tendency to pull more muscles or tear more muscles when exercising and being a weekend warrior. And part of the reason for that is as we age the muscles and the connective tissue lose some of the elasticity. As we get older the body’s ability to make good quality tissue and collagen and things are affected and that’s why our skin sags and our muscles tend to not be as flexible. So as anything ages we become a little more tougher, a little bit more fibrous, and that will limit the flexibility of the tissue.

The second thing that affects a lot of flexibility as we get older is arthritis. So, when we use our joints, stress, tension, poor posture, accidents, falls, can cause them to misalign. And if you keep using the joints and they’re not lined up ideally, you’ll start to see degenerative changes and pain, and then the joints can’t physically move completely through their range of motion, and that will limit the amount of flexibility as well.

There’s an elasticity component of the tissue and then the actual flexibility of the joints, which actually do the moving, are two of the main things that we’ll see that will limit flexibility as we age.

I know you just touched on this, so in what areas of the body is flexibility affected the most by age?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Well, I’m a little biased in that I’m a chiropractor, so most of the things that I see coming into my office are typically going to be looking at the spine. So of course, the spine is affected with flexibility. We’ve all seen that like 70 or 80-year-old guy all hunched over, you know, with his neck all twisted, and it’s hard for him to move. So, you know, of course we’re going to see the spine be affected.

But, you know, what you’ll see is when you get less flexible in the hamstrings, you’re more likely to tear them and things like that. So, it can happen anywhere. It really depends on the life and the lifestyle of the individual. But we certainly see plenty of it in the spine. We also see it in the shoulders, the knees, the ankles and the hips, of course. And what we’re hearing about a lot of times now is all the hips replacements, the knee replacements and shoulder replacements that they’re doing with all these surgeries. And the ones that they’re doing the most surgeries on are usually the ones that are going to be the most affected. So those are the ones we hear about, those are the ones that are going to be most affected.

Why is it so important to try to maintain flexibility or try to regain it as we age?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Well, I really like the first part of your question much better, because to maintain your flexibility is definitely going to be easier than trying to get it back once it’s gone. You know, flexibility a lot of times is really synonymous with resilience and it has everything to do with injury prevention. And that’s really why it’s so important. Anything that’s rigid is going to tear or break easily if it’s not flexible, and that, you know, works with anything.

If it’s not flexible it’s going to be more likely to break or get injured. Same thing with the joints that we spoke about before. Once a joint has arthritic change, it’s very hard to get it to move back to the time and place that it was once healthy. Just like if a cavity occurs, you can’t go back to a time where there was no cavity in the tooth. We can’t go backwards. The best we can do is stop it from progressing, getting worse, and doing the work and keeping the alignment ideal, which will slow down any type of degenerative change and keep the joints more flexible.

Maintaining it is way more important. I mean, once it’s gone, yeah, you can start to stretch and you can see a chiropractor. You can do all those things, but I always want to be on the front side of it. Prevention is key rather than waiting until you have a problem. And, you know, like I always say, that’s what we do with our mouth and our teeth. We brush and floss. We don’t wait until we get a cavity and then start to do those things. We don’t wait until a cavity and then say, “Now I need to go to a dentist.”

If you just take care of your teeth a little bit at a time throughout the course of your lifetime, they’re going to last forever. The spine is made to do the same stuff, degenerates in the similar fashion and it’s extremely important to care for your spine throughout the course of your lifetime.

Can chiropractic care help improve our flexibility?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Absolutely. You know, I’ve kind of touched on it before where, you know, improving the mechanics and the alignment of the joints will help them move through their full range of motion and keep the body healthier. By increasing flexibility also it will allow your body to heal faster because you’re going to move greater through the range of motion.

If something’s starting to heal and you don’t have a full range of motion, sometimes some of that less elastic tissue will limit the motion of a joint. After a shoulder is injured sometimes you’ll get less motion. So, it is super important to work on improving that flexibility, whether it be through chiropractic or physical therapy, depending on what structures are involved.

Of course, chiropractic is going to focus more on the joints and the mechanics of the spine. But if I had a shoulder injury or a knee injury, you know, if I wasn’t seeing a chiropractor I’d check out a physical therapist, because they can take you through exercises to restore flexibility in the health of the joints as well.

What are some easy things people can do to maintain flexibility on a daily basis?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Well, easy is also a relative term. If I’m a 90-year-old guy and I’ve never really exercised much, it might not be easy. But the rules kind of apply to everyone. You know, you need to either move it or lose it, right? So, stretching is an important part of it. You know, people doing Yoga, Pilates. Any type of movement is going to be good, because if you stop moving a joint, then it will degenerate faster.

We’ve all seen an aging parent or an adult, once they start to get a lot of pain, they move less, and then the arthritis and those things really start to take on a much faster progression. So, it’s important. And, you know, you’ve got to stay active. But it really has to be compelling stuff. Some people don’t like to exercise. Some people don’t like to do Yoga.

And what I tell people is, “Find something that’s compelling to you. Something that you like to do.” If it’s walking with your friends, if it’s swimming in a pool, but do something. And taking care of your spine, seeing a chiropractor will also help maintain good alignment and maintain the flexibility, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle. So, you’ve got to be moving. You’ve got to make sure that the joints are healthy, and you’ve got to find an exercise or something that you find compelling to do, otherwise you’re just not going to do it.

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