What is mobility and 5 ways to improve it?

WHAT IS MOBILITY AND 5 WAYS TO IMPROVE IT by Elmira Family Chiropractic

Mobility is defined as the body’s ability to actively and freely move through a joint’s full range of motion. For each joint in the body and direction of movement, there have been desired ranges established which are usually presented as a degree. Healthcare professionals base an individual’s mobility off of these ranges (1). Most people refer to it as “stiffness” or being “tight.”

With this definition of mobility in mind, reduced mobility (also often termed poor mobility) can be described as a joint’s full range of movement not being met and thus, “normal” range not able to be performed. Quite often, individuals do not notice they have reduced mobility as it often slowly progresses over time, like no being able to turn your head fully to check your blind spot when driving.

Reduced mobility can have a range of effects on an individual’s wellbeing. Particularly in the ageing population, reduced mobility leads to a reduction in independent lifestyle, increased risk of injury and falls, which all inevitably opens up the individual to a range of other issues (1) (3). Encouraging maintenance of movement is an easy way to reduce the likelihood of these events. 

What causes reduced mobility?

1. Reduced mobility caused by ageing

It’s no secret that as we age, we can experience progressive wear and tear of our spine and joints. This ‘wear and tear’ is also commonly known as degeneration and osteoarthritis. Individuals might start to feel generalised stiffness and a few aches and pains in the areas that are starting to degenerate.

The main reason for this is because, as pressure builds up on these joints due to lack of movement, they can become overloaded and start to change in shape. In addition to this, when degeneration happens in the spine, it can cause added pressure on nerves – which can lead to a cascade of varying symptoms such as pain travelling down limbs, poor coordination and imbalance.

In contrast to the common belief that it is best to get a little R&R when experiencing these things, the best thing we can do is move our body to ensure we maintain the best possible mobility for as long as possible to slow down the rate of degeneration. It goes with the old saying, ‘If you don’t use it, you lose it.’

2. Reduced mobility caused by other health conditions

Reduced mobility can be caused by the following:

  • Inflammation of the muscles and soft tissue adjacent to the joint 
  • Swelling around a joint
  • Postural changes (2)
  • Infection in the body can lead to joint and muscle stiffness, inevitably reducing mobility 
  • An old injury that may have left scar tissue in the area surrounding a joint 
  • Neurological disorders that affect the muscle 
  • Different types of arthritis including (but not limited to) rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and ankylosing spondylitis

3. Reduced mobility caused by a sedentary lifestyle

Reduced mobility can be caused by the following:

  • Poor posture, slouching, poor ergonomics (2)
  • Tightening of muscles leading to stiffness and restricted movement
  • Muscle imbalance due to weakness

Tips to maintaining good mobility

1. Staying active – physical activity

The best way to stay mobile is by moving your body! (3) Whether you prefer a gym workout, biking, yoga, Pilates or going for a walk, it is necessary to continue with your chosen activity to keep moving. When we stop moving, our joints begin to stiffen and muscles shorten – which inevitably leads to poor mobility. Not only does physical activity assist with mobility, it actually has a lot of added health benefits including increased blood flow, circulation of oxygen and aid in improving mental health, as well as decreased pain (1) (2). Check out this short and sweet routine with Dr. Thom to help improve the mobility from your head to your toes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZSLSySlzFk&t=46s

2. Having an ergonomic setup at work

A lot of us spend much of our time sitting at a desk each day for work, often hunched over our laptop screens. Having an ergonomic set up will make a huge difference to prevent stiffness and help you in maintaining good posture. 

The following are key considerations when assessing your set up – 

  • Eyes forward
  • Shoulders relaxed 
  • Arms and legs parallel to table-top
  • Back arch supported in the chair 
  • Feet flat on the floor
  • Chin tucked and neck long

We understand that it can be hard to stay mobile at work, but remembering to take regular breaks will help a lot! It is better to take more breaks that are shorter in length than fewer longer breaks. Breaks may include walking up and down the length of your office or doing some light stretches, moving your body after being seated for a long while is important (1). If possible, a stand-up desk is a great way to keep you up and about at work. 

3. Foam rolling

Foam rolling can works to release some of the tension that has built up in the muscles. By releasing tension in the muscles, they are able to relax which will make the muscles more receptive to stretching, improve flexibility and as a result, allow the joint to move freely through its full range of motion. Foam rolling also aids in relieving muscle pain caused by the built-up tension. 

When foam rolling, use your body weight to facilitate the pressure and roll up and down the length of the muscle you are trying to release tension in. Ensure you are only rolling over the length of the muscle and not rolling over an area that is bony. Check out the following video by Dr. Thom on tips for foam rolling

4. Stretching

Stretching helps to lengthen the muscles, particularly when they are tight. By doing this, we improve flexibility so that the joint is then able to move through its desired range of motion. To get the most out of stretching, it is helpful to foam roll prior, as it reduces tension in the muscle before we stretch it out. What often isn’t taught with stretching is how long we are meant to hold the position for. It is ideal to hold a stretch for at least 40 seconds, repeating each side at least twice. Check out our health library for some great stretches at the end.

5. See a Chiropractor

Why see a Chiropractor? Chiropractors can help restore movement into joints that are restricted and consequently adding pressure onto the nerves exiting the spine. By keeping your joints moving well through their full range of motion, this can reduce the rate at which those joints degenerate, can keep you mobile and reduce the pressure on your nerves.

If you have any other specific concerns please let us know so we can get you moving!

Dr. Sarah

References

1. Benjamin T. Bjerke, M. (2021). Strong Spine, Healthy Mobility. Retrieved 10 March 2021, from https://www.spineuniverse.com/wellness/mobility/strong-spine-healthy-mobility

2. Bilgilisoy Filiz, M., & Cubukcu Firat, S. (2021). Effects of Physical Therapy on Pain, Functional Status, Sagittal Spinal Alignment, and Spinal Mobility in Chronic Non-specific Low Back Pain. 

3. Martin, S., & Martin, S. (2014). Mobility and Independence. Boston, MA: Harvard Health Publications.

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