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Flexibility Training and Stretching – Is it Worth It?

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Flexibility is defined as the static maximum range of motion (or ROM), available from a joint. There have been lengthy debates and studies to determine that flexibility has a role in injury prevention in many sports and it is an undervalued portion of conditioning training.

There are many reasons as to why a particular joint has reduced flexibility. It could be due to the joint itself, tightness in muscles or stiffness in other soft tissue surrounding the joint. There is a well-established rule that insufficient ROM, or stiffness will increase muscle-strain risks and as physiotherapists our role is often to directly influence the soft tissues (i.e. muscles, tendons and ligaments) around the joint.

Muscle tightness essentially reduces the ROM that a limb can achieve, ultimately affecting performance. With this reduced ROM, you are more likely to sustain injuries or ‘tears’ to muscles and structures around the joint when forced into larger ranges. For example, if a rugby player has tight neck muscles and limited neck movement and is tackled or performs a tackle, which moves his head beyond the already limited ROM, these muscles are more likely to be damaged.

Muscles can become tight for many reasons.  If you have weakness around a joint, the muscles may become stiff to try and add more stability to the area.  Overuse or a heavy session at the gym can also cause tightness due to the micro-trauma inflicted on the muscles.  Conditions affecting the brain/nerve routes can also lead to increased muscle tone (e.g. Multiple Sclerosis).

Tightness around the joints means that they are more prone to injury.  However it can be vastly improved with work from a physiotherapist. Your physiotherapist can provide massage and a stretching regime, which has been shown to be the best preventative measure for tightness around joints as well as work on the movement of the joint itself reducing discomfort following exercise and injuries resulting from them.

Have you had a stretching regime or massage from your physiotherapist for any tight muscles? We would love to know your thoughts on flexibility training – do you feel it helps reduce discomfort and improve your training? Any comments below are welcome.