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  • Writer's pictureMark Austin

Understanding Stability, Mobility, and Flexibility in Recovery

A lot of patients show up in my office with pain and injury feeling uncertain over what they should be doing to get better. Should they avoid certain movements? Should they stretch more, or do they need to strengthen things up more?


Many gradual onset, mechanical sports and gym injuries are the result in deficits in mobility, flexibility, and/or stability, and knowing the differences between them can help patients better understand the rationale behind their treatment in physiotherapy. Each plays a distinct role in enhancing your overall health and performance. Let’s delve into the differences between stability, mobility, and flexibility, and why each is important for your well-being.

Stability:

Stability refers to the ability of your body to maintain control during movement or while maintaining a specific position. It is the foundation upon which all other movements are built, like the sturdy base of a skyscraper that prevents it from toppling over in strong winds.

In the context of physiotherapy, an example of an injury related to stability might be a back strain due to limited core stability during a squat or deadlift. Stability exercises focus on strengthening the muscles that support and stabilize your joints, such as the core muscles, rotator cuff, the deeper muscles of the hip, and the foot and ankle. These exercises help prevent injuries by improving your body's ability to withstand external forces and maintain proper alignment.

 

In the past, we often focused on building stability in a ‘neutral’ position only (i.e. not bending your back when you lift), and in static positions. Today, most fitness professionals believe that its best to gradually build stability in a variety of positions, as well as combined with movement. Imagine the strength and control in the core of a hockey player as they twist during a slapshot.

Mobility:

Mobility, on the other hand, refers to the range of active range of motion available at a particular joint or group of joints. It's the ability to move freely and easily with strength and control and without restrictions or discomfort. Imagine being able to bend, twist, and reach without feeling tightness or stiffness in your muscles and joints. In physiotherapy there are a lot of different injuries related to poor mobility. For example, many patients show up with rotator cuff issues when they due to having limited shoulder mobility while having to lift or work overhead beyond their limits.

Good mobility means having freedom of movement. It is essential for performing daily activities and various exercises effectively. It allows you to move through a full range of motion, which can enhance athletic performance, reduce the risk of injury, and improve overall quality of life.

Flexibility:

Flexibility is often used interchangeably with mobility, but they are not the same. This is an important one! Flexibility specifically refers to the passive length of a muscle or group of muscles and their ability to stretch. It's about how much a muscle can elongate without causing discomfort or injury. An example of flexibility would be your ability to touch your toes, but not necessarily with much control, or your physiotherapist stretching your arm overhead in ranges you can’t get to on your own. An example of a flexibility issue in physiotherapy might be someone pulling their hamstrings while trying to move their leg beyond its available range of motion.

 

Stretching exercises are commonly used to improve flexibility by elongating muscles and increasing their range of motion. Flexibility training can help reduce muscle tightness, improve posture and alignment, and enhance joint function. However, it's important to note that excessive flexibility without adequate mobility or stability can increase the risk of injury.

 

 

The Relationship:

 

Flexibility would be your ability to stretch your hamstrings as close to your end range of motion as possible using a yoga strap for help, whereas mobility would mean being able to move freely to that position without much effort, and stability would mean being able to move to that position with good strength and control against outside forces.

While stability, mobility, and flexibility are distinct concepts, they are interconnected and work together to optimize movement patterns and overall function. Think of them as pieces of a puzzle that complement each other to create a balanced picture of fitness and health. Usually when someone shows up in pain or injured for sports or the gym, there is a deficit in at least one.

For example, if you have good stability but limited mobility or flexibility in a particular joint, you may experience movement restrictions or compensations that can lead to pain or injury over time. Similarly, excessive flexibility without sufficient stability can compromise joint integrity and increase the risk of hypermobility-related injuries.

Conclusion:

In summary, stability, mobility, and flexibility are essential components to optimal movement. By understanding the differences between them and working on improving the areas that may be lacking, you can enhance your body's ability to move efficiently, prevent injuries, recover from pain and injury and more easily achieve your fitness goals.

This is why in physiotherapy it is important that we do an in-depth assessment of each area and create an individualized exercise plan for every patient—no one person is ever going to be the same when we look at all three, as well as other factors that may be contributing to their situation. If you’re in Calgary and looking for help with this, book in today by clicking here.

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