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The Importance of Flexibility


By Chris Byers, PT, Advanced Rehab and Sports Medicine

Flexibility of our joints is vitally important to the health and function of the joint. Joints rely on full range of motion to nourish cartilage and to stimulate, remodel, and repair the joint. Loss of normal range of motion is often associated with pain, loss of mobility, and increased risk of injury or even falls. Arthritic joints with poor flexibility suffer increased wear and tear and surrounding joints get overuse trying to help the painful joints. Without full range of motion, there is accelerated joint degeneration and possibly increased pain.

Arthritis is one of the most common reasons for pain and based on 2010-2012 data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), an estimated:

  • 52.5 million (22.7 percent) of adults have self-reported, doctor-diagnosed arthritis.
  • 22.7 million (9.8 percent of all adults) have arthritis and arthritis-attributable activity limitation.

So, what can you do and how do you start? First of all, joint pain is not just a normal part of aging and it may or may not be caused by arthritis. If you have chronic pain, don’t just live with it. See your physician to be sure that you have the correct diagnosis. There are many treatment options including medication and joint replacement surgery. But let’s begin with the benefits of exercise.

The physical benefits of exercise include lubrication of the joints, reducing stiffness and pain, increasing energy levels, and improving sleep. There can also be a weight loss benefit, and less body weight produces less stress on the joints. The mental benefits of exercise include decreased depression and anxiety, better ability to relax, and improved mood or state of mind. Why do so many people not like to exercise? Get started for your health’s sake.

Here are a few parameters to follow:

  • Begin slowly and gradually increase exercise. Walking is always the standard place to start. Begin at a comfortable stroll for a few blocks. Make sure and time your walk. Progression can be decreasing time, increasing distance, or both. If you have pain that lingers for several days, then you may have progressed too fast. If you are unable to walk, some alternatives are water walking or bike riding.
  • Stretching after walking or after light exercise is recommended, as the muscles are warm and more receptive to stretching activity. The most important areas to stretch are the lower extremities and Lumbar spine or low back.
  • Stretches should be mild and sustained. Bend a joint until you feel mild pressure or muscle stretch and hold 20-30 seconds and repeat 3-5 times. Knees and hips are typically stiff joints and tight calf muscles often restrict proper walking. Joint replacements should be stretched according to the program you were given during your rehab.
  • Do not participate in exercises that cause discomfort. High impact exercise such as jogging or running is irritating to the joint. Pace of exercise again is measured by how your joints tolerate the activity.
  • If you have severe joint problems, such as poor range of motion or swelling, seek professional help before getting started.

Getting started is always the most difficult part of exercise. Research shows it takes a month to develop a habit of exercise. Put it on your calendar or in your phone reminders and do it. Count on feeling better but it will likely be a gradual improvement that occurs over the course of several weeks.  

In physical therapy, we treat arthritis and the symptoms daily. We focus on joint flexibility and strength to improve a person’s daily function. We use stretching and exercise as our tools to relieve pain and get people more active. If you are unable to achieve your desired level of activity due to pain, physical therapy is a good place to start. If you have joint discomfort and aching but still feel able to perform at your desired level of activity, then starting an exercise and stretching program will help keep your discomfort from getting worse.

For more information on any sort of pain or injury, you may contact Advanced Rehab & Sports Medicine at 309-664-9104 or Their office is located at 135 N. Williamsburg Dr. in Bloomington. Free assessments are offered within 24 hours of contact for patients of all ages.

Photo credit: azndc/iStock