Flexibility is the ability to move your joints through a normal range of motion. We all inherit certain characteristics of our joints and muscle attachments, which determine our potential range of motion. This sometimes leads to frustration among individuals who compare themselves to more flexible peers or established “norms”. Rather than dwell on individual differences, it is more productive to focus on the following concepts:
1. In the large majority of joint movements, an unrestricted or enhanced range of motion is associated with a reduced risk of injury for an individual, regardless of innate ability;
2. Almost everyone who follows a consistent stretching program will improve his or her range of motion;
3. Stretching will help offset the detrimental decrease in range of motion due to repetitive overuse, inactivity, and aging.
The immediate benefits of a proper stretching program are a decreased risk of injury from sudden forceful movements and decreased muscle and joint soreness and stiffness following exercise. Good flexibility is necessary to maintain correct posture, which helps protect against back problems. Coordination can be improved when flexibility increases, which can enhance job and athletic performance. When done properly, an extended stretching session can be a relaxing and cathartic experience, which can have a positive effect on overall health. However, achieving extreme levels of flexibility in some joints, can result in unsafe joint instability, and should be avoided.