In our daily lives, most of us do not have any reason to consider the extent of the range of motion (ROM) we have in our bodies- that is, until we experience an injury, sudden pain, or other drastic limitations. Usually when I ask a client, “How’s your range of motion?” they’ll take a few seconds and say, “Pretty good.” Truthfully, if you can do your daily activities without having to restrict any movements, you ARE doing ‘pretty good;’ however, issues arise when our daily lifestyles limit the full potential of our joint movements, and therefore aren’t a clear indication of our optimal health. This blog post is intended to encourage you to maintain, or if needed, improve, your ROM and flexibility throughout your life.
There are two types of ROM: active and passive. Passive ROM is the movement that your body can be taken in without your assistance, e.g. when you get a massage. Active ROM is the natural maximum movement our bodies and tissues allow us during everyday activities.
It is important to maintain a healthy ROM. Here’s why:
- The overall health of your joints.
Our joints are designed to be fully used. When we limit full use the surrounding muscle and connective tissue becomes imbalanced, leading to a misalignment of the joint over time. Misaligned joints do not allow for optimal circulation in a joint, and when blood supply is diminished, the nutrient supply the joints need is diminished (not good!) In addition, the misalignment of the joint itself will, over time, cause more wear and tear on the joint cartilage, and can eventually lead to it wearing down completely (if this sounds like osteoarthritis to you, you’re right.)
- The strength of your joints
Inflexible muscles are weaker muscles. Weak muscles at joint structures ask more from neighboring muscle groups, causing more muscle fatigue and thus a higher risk of injury, as strong muscles help to protect the joints.
EXAMPLE: Remaining in a seated position for the majority of the day- think sitting in your car, sitting at your desk, sitting in front of the TV- keeps your hamstrings and calves in a shortened, contracted position (ladies, wearing high heels contributes even more to this!) These muscles work to stabilize your knee, and the knee is more prone to a ligament tear (e.g. ACL) when these muscles weaken.
- Whole body health
Injuries and pain arise in other areas of our bodies when we limit the use of a joint. When neighboring muscles and joints work overtime to compensate for a weak joint, the uneven distribution of weight and force asks more from other areas of your body than they are meant to accommodate.
EXAMPLE: Restricting movement in your right knee will naturally lead to a limping gait; if not corrected, the uneven movement will distribute more weight into the left leg, adding an extra amount of weight in the left hip, knee, and ankle. These joints will eventually compensate on their own with an unnatural movement pattern to handle the extra load, thus setting up for pain and injury on your ‘good’ leg.
So, how do we maintain (or regain) healthy movement in our bodies? Follow us on social media and check back next week for my next blog post, How stretching works for (and against) your body.
Haley Sullivan, NC Licensed Massage Therapist #12309