Being flexible allows people to move better, increase their range of motion and maintain healthy and strong muscles. Doing stretching exercises or practicing yoga on a regular basis will help improve flexibility.
What does it mean to be flexible and how would someone know if they have good flexibility or not?
Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Liz, that’s an excellent question. And what I’d like to do is just clear up one thing before we talk about flexibility, because there’s a difference between flexibility and mobility, and not everyone really thinks about that. So, I want to make sure that you understand that flexibility is a muscle’s ability to lengthen passively. That’s without engagement, without you actually contracting the muscle, so it’s performing a static stretch, holding still and stretching using the body weight, like bending forward to try and touch your toes. That’s flexibility. Mobility, on the other hand, is related to the joints and their ability to move actively through their full range of motion, so think about if you’re lifting your leg up in the air, 90-degree angle, and then bringing it back down again. That’s active mobility. In order to have good mobility, you do need to have good flexibility, so it’s important. But the two terms are easily confused, and I want to make sure that people understand the difference.
If you’re looking to determine if you have good flexibility, on average, most men should get very close, maybe one or two inches, to bending forward and touching their toes, and most women usually can touch their toes. And if there’s more flexibility, you can see people even palming the floor. More flexibility is important. And you have good length in the muscles, it’s important. That enhances the mobility, which helps us with performance and doing the things that we want to do. It’s so important to know that they have good or, at least, average flexibility, and that can be worked on as well, as long as it’s coupled with mobility.
Is good posture a result of good flexibility? Why is good posture important to our overall health?
Well, good posture is very important. And remember, we talked a little bit about there’s two different types of posture. There’s your posture that you’re aware of, it’s like are you slouching? And then there’s that subconscious posture, someone who’s really having a great day. They got that spring in their step. They’re standing tall. They’re looking alive. Someone who’s depressed is curled over and hunched over, and those things are important to understand.
The common postural problems we see, like slouched shoulders, an arched spine, compressed neck, forward head posture, can all lead to chronic aches and pains in the lower back, neck and shoulders. So, it’s really important to make sure that you’re improving your posture because when your posture is solid, then it’s the bones and the discs that are giving your body support. When the bones and the spine is misaligned, then it requires the muscles to chime in and then they start to tighten up and help stabilize, and then you start to lose your flexibility and your mobility.
Balance and stability are very important for both athletes and for the older population. How does flexibility help improve our balance and stability?
Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Liz, you got me on there. I’m not so sure that stability and balance relates back to flexibility. There are different parameters. Balance and stability are super important for performance, but when we talk about balance and stability, those are more neurologically controlled, which are both important for the athletes and the older population.
When we really look at balance and stability, I think they’re different parameters. Being flexible might help a little bit in those things, but I think it’s a separate parameter and you need to be incorporating all three. You need to be flexible, have good balance and good stability in the spine, because the more stable your spine is, again, the less that you need to use the muscles to contribute to the postural issues and the flexibility issues. If you’re overusing the muscles, they tighten up, become less flexible, and that can really start to have a deleterious effect on your overall athletic performance.
Those things are very important parameters in that the more flexible you are, the better balance you’ll have. The more flexible you are, yes, you’ll have more stability. They all work together as a triad, like a three-legged stool. If you take any one of those legs away, the stool’s not going to stand or balance so well. So, I think that all three are important and they’re interrelated. And flexibility, it’s important, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be there to improve stability and balance, but it certainly will help in the long run.
Can flexibility allow us to build greater strength, both in our muscles and in bone health?
Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: It may actually help contribute to greater strength, because when you’re more flexible, you’re moving through a greater range of motion, which will protect the joints. If you don’t use the full range of motion of the joint, you’ll start to lose it. So being flexible allows the person to do the exercise and move completely through that range of motion, which I think is important, which will help give you more muscular balance and control. Then the more you exercise, the more you stimulate bone growth. It’ll help increase and get the strength in the bones.
It’s not necessarily the flexibility, but it’s just the action of exercising, stretching, and doing weightbearing exercise, which increase our bone density and our bone health. And then strength is what keeps the muscles healthy. The more you use the muscles, the more oxygenation and the more new blood vessels start to grow in there. That’s what keeps the muscles healthy and keeps you strong for the rest of your life.
What are some exercises people can do to improve their flexibility?
Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Well, improving your flexibility, obviously, stretching. And when most people think about stretching, the first thing that comes to mind to them is usually yoga. They see people doing these poses and stretching.
I’m a huge fan of yoga, it maintains flexibility, but the other reason I’m so in love with yoga is that, like chiropractic, it enhances the mind-body connection. In chiropractic, we’re always talking about how the nerve system is the master system. It controls everything and if the bones misalign, it interferes with communication along those neural structures. Well, if I do my job and I make sure that all those nerve connections are patent and open, then the yogis are going to actually program the software. So, chiropractors work with the hardware and yoga works on programming the software and has the enhancement of that mind-body connection, as well as with the flexibility.
Pilates is another one that incorporates strength and flexibility together. I practiced Pilates for many, many years and it was incredible. And now, I’ve stopped. I haven’t done my Pilates training in almost two and a half years, and I can see that I’ve lost a little bit of the flexibility that I had.
So those are things that are great, stretching on your own and just working on your general flexibility. There are tons of videos. There are lots of resources online that people can look at. But motion is life. You need to work on not just your flexibility or stretching, but you also need to work on the mobility of the joints, because they go hand-in-hand.
I want to make sure that people understand that there are benefits of flexibility and benefits of mobility. There are benefits of stability and there are benefits of balance. But when you incorporate all of that, that creates the picture of a healthy body that’s connected, mobile, flexible, and the more flexible you are, the less likely you are to get injured.
To speak with Dr. Gregg Rubinstein, visit www.ChiropractorMidtown.com or call (212) 977-7094 to schedule an appointment.