Some people can bend themselves into a pretzel, while others can barely get up after sitting for a while. How about you? Flexibility, or limberness, refers to how freely your joints move and the length in muscles that cross those joints. Regular massage can, and will, help most people improve and retain their normal flexibility. You’ll feel better because you can move better.
How flexible you are depends on factors, some of which are in your control, some that aren’t. Here are five factors that affect your flexibility:
- Joint structure. There are several different types of joints in the human body. Some have a greater range of motion (ROM) than others. The ball and socket joint in your shoulder, for example, has the greatest range of motion of all joints. Compare your shoulder joint, which moves in virtually every direction, to the hinge joint in your elbow, which only allows you to flex and extend.
- Age & Gender. ROM and flexibility naturally decreases as you get older. This is due, in part, to a degradation of the fibrous connective tissue that takes the place of muscle fibers through fibrosis. Because of bone structure, females tend to be more flexible than males, despite how old they are. Just as with strength and endurance, flexibility can be increased at any age with training, like yoga, or proper stretching,
When you wake up after a night’s sleep, your mobility is decreased. That’s why you often feel the urge to stretch. Ten minutes in a warm bath increase body temperature and ROM. exercise and massage.
- Connective Tissue. Deep connective tissue such as fascia and tendons can limit ROM. These tissues differ in their ability to return to their original resting length (elasticity) and their tendency to keep a new and greater length after stretched (plasticity). Ligaments aren’t elastic, but can respond to stretching. Over time connective tissues lose water content and the collagen in ligaments and tendons can become thicker and less flexible.
- Muscle bulk. Big muscles can adversely affect ROM. It may be difficult for very bulky athletes to complete certain stretches because their muscle mass gets in the way. A person with huge pec muscles, for example, may have trouble extending their arms above their head. For some athletes, big muscles are more important than ROM. If exercises employ heavy weights, flexibility can also be reduced as muscle density and mass increases.
- Proprioceptors. Proprioceptors are tiny sensors located inside muscle fibers that provide information about joint angle, muscle length, and muscle tension. Careful, purposeful, slow stretching can ensure that these sensors don’t trigger spasms or reflex actions that don’t help build flexibility.There are other factors, like previous injury, that can cause a loss of flexibility. Regardless of the cause, massage by a qualified professional can go a long way toward restoring lost flexibility and increase ROM.