Mobility vs Flexibility: Why is Mobility Important?

Whats the Difference?

The terms flexibility and mobility are often used interchangeably, but there’s one major difference in their true definitions.

Flexibility

Flexibility is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to lengthen passively through a range of motion. To myself as a physical therapist….BORING! How many times in a day does something or someone take you through a range of motion without any muscular effort on your part? Think about it. My guess is that it’s not often. I’m not implying that flexibility never comes into play, only trying to demonstrate the relative importance compared to “mobility”.

Mobility

Mobility is the ability of a joint and it’s musculature to ACTIVELY move through a range of motion. It is important to realize that this is the definition in the context of our discussion of mobility versus flexibility. Mobility has many other meanings even in the physical therapy world, such as referring to the degree to which an elderly patient gets around their home, for example. One could argue that this is a direct result of decreased joint and muscular mobility, but that is a separate discussion. The emphasis of course on the “active” portion is in that it takes muscular effort, strength, and stability to perform functional tasks. A functional task encompasses anything that you as an individual need to do to succeed in your roles in society, social life, and personal life.

Why is Mobility important?

Now that we know the difference between flexibility and mobility, we can get to why it matters for YOU. Mobility in this context is necessary to complete an individual’s functional tasks, as previously mentioned. When any joint in the body is unable to move through a given range of motion for a task, it begins to put additional strain on the adjacent joints in the body. In addition, because this joint does not move well, it will lead to muscle tightness due to the inability for the associated muscles to move through their full length.

A great example was given in our previous post on low back pain. Often times, the thoracic spine and the hips are more “stiff” and “tight” than other areas of the body, which leads to an increased demand on the lumbar spine (low back) during functional tasks such as standing up from a chair, walking around, and lifting/manipulating objects.

Another way to look at this concept is to consider the differences between the average elderly adults and a fit, middle-aged adult. What do you picture? The shortened step length of the elderly adult? The more upright and neutral posture of the fit, middle-aged adult? Each of these could be an example of the consequences of decreased mobility. It is short-sighted to think that the ONLY reason for these differences is due to decreased mobility, but it’s hard to argue that it isn’t at least a significant factor. Other age-related considerations to mention include diminished balance and righting reactions, sarcopenia (normal age-related muscle loss), and decreasing activity level.

In summary, keeping mobility in mind is important because a prolonged non-use of joint and muscle mobility can lead to negative adaptations within the body. The body is smart and responds to the challenges presented to it, or in this case, challenges NOT presented to it. When we do not utilize our joints throughout their entire range of motion, that range of motion slowly diminishes. This goes back to the saying “if you don’t use it, you lose it”, which is often the case in the body. You can avoid this through a well-programmed mobility and exercise routine.

Don’t have a solid routine or feeling overwhelmed on where to start? Reach out to our number or e-mail below. I have taught my share of mobility classes and developed a personalized routine for many of my clients as well as myself.

About the Author

Dr. Ryan Queen is a doctor of physical therapy, certified strength and conditioning specialist, and level 1 certified precision nutrition coach, in addition to holding certifications in other adjunct treatment modalities and paradigms.

He created Revolution Performance as a gym-based physical therapy practice and wellness coaching service after becoming frustrated by the conflict of interest that health insurance company restrictions bring. His vision with the company has always been to provide high quality, holistic care while forming life-long relationships.

His mission is to help busy, hard-working adults get out of pain and dysfunction, whether from a current injury, a past one, or just daily aches and pains. In addition, Ryan has a passion for creating a proactive environment where issues are addressed before they become debilitating, or even before they exist.

After working 40 hours a week at a full time job while going to physical therapy school, Ryan knows how it feels to think you do not have enough time in the day to take care of yourself in all facets of health. It has been a goal of his to share the information and strategies he has learned to help others improve their overall health and become more productive.

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Medical Disclaimer: All information on this website is intended for informational and educational purposes only. The authors and partners are not responsible for any harm or injury incurred. It is important to seek professional guidance about your condition or injury. No guarantees have been made or implied regarding specific results of the services described.

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