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How to Improve Your Mobility

Do your hips or lower back feel tight as you perform movements like a squat? Perhaps your shoulders feel stiff when trying to bring your arms overhead, or your ankles feel restricted. All of these are common reports in sports physical therapy field.

Regardless of where your mobility problems lie, it is your body, more specifically your nervous system that is intentionally causing this. The stiff muscle that you feel is the body protecting itself or adapting to the demands placed upon it.

I often think back to my previous experiences as a physical therapist and the players that I worked with in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Most of them had ankle mobility restrictions, which were an adaptation to constantly being on the balls of the feet. These athletes were constantly sprinting, jumping, and cutting with their heels rarely touching the ground.

As a result, their body adapted to make them better at these movements. The tissues around their ankles turned into tight springs that allowed them to remain explosive without expending too much energy.

Adaptations like this are beneficial for performance however occur at the expense of mobility. As these adaptations go too far the risk of injury increases.

How do we know that adaptations have gone too far?

When the body no longer has the prerequisite abilities necessary to perform the activities required of it. In this case the joints of the body have less mobility than life or their activities require. As a result, uncomfortable feelings of stiffness or injury occur.

For this reason, I encourage athletes and patients to perform daily exercises that practice movements outside of their preferred movement strategies. This way the body cannot excessively adapt to only one way of doing things.

Here is a drill that I recently gave to a patient with shoulder mobility limitations and this is a drill that I advised a runner perform within her daily routine.

Would you like to discover the daily essentials that will help you feel better and move better? If so, contact us today!

What Touching Your Toes Really Says

Can you see the difference in these photos? The toe touch is a simple test that is often performed in injury rehabilitation and sports physical therapy settings.

However, important parts of this test are commonly missed. Simply touching your toes doesn’t tell the whole story. If you can touch your toes, great, however there are different ways that you can get there.

Have you stretched your hamstrings to such a degree that they allow you to nearly palm the floor? 

If you are a gymnast that may be a great thing. However field sport athletes (ex. Lacrosse, football, basketball, baseball) and weight lifters need a level of hamstring stiffness for explosive movement. 

Is your lower back straight or does it flex into more of a C curve to allow you to more easily touch your toes? Is your lower back bending in certain areas but not in others?

Your lower back consists of multiple bones (vertebrae) that are stacked on top of each other. Our backs are built this way to allow for movement of one segment on the next. However many times these small movements do not occur and the lower back moves as one unit. The result is a lower back that looks straight in places despite being bent over. Over time, a lack of lower back  movement can increase the risk for injury.

The toe touch is a great test and can be made even better when directed by a professional with a trained eye.

Contact us for more information about how a customized movement assessment may help you optimize your training and avoid injury!

Is Mobility Overrated?

Mobility has become a popular buzzword in the sports physical therapy community in Bethesda and Chevy Chase. While it is an important aspect of health and fitness, could mobility be getting more attention than it actually deserves?

What Is Mobility?

The term “mobility” refers the quantity of available movement — and how freely and efficiently you’re able to do so. Popularized by the sports physical therapy and training community, mobility is important for everyone, whether you’re an elite athlete or a busy working Mom.

Mobility is an important part of a well-designed injury rehabilitation and prevention program. It is also used to improve the quality of life for our physical therapy patients in Chevy Chase and Bethesda.

While very important, many experts feel that the booming popularity of mobility overshadows several other key health factors. In particular, the added focus on mobility often leads to a lack of attention on other important health factors, such as strength, cardiovascular health, and other global health behaviors.

What The Mobility “Craze” Makes Us Overlook

Although mobility is an important aspect of a healthy body, mobility alone won’t provide the quick fix you might be looking for. Instead, there are several complex contributing factors that need to be properly managed to improve your overall health.

Strength Training

Lean body mass and strength are some of the greatest indicators of the overall health of an individual. In fact, according to a study done by Harvard University, something as simple as grip strength can help measure an individual’s risk of heart attack, stroke, or cardiovascular disease.

Focusing on mobility alone overlooks the importance of strength training. According to The Mayo Clinic, strength training can help you manage or lose weight, increase metabolism, protect your joints and ligaments, and improve your ability to do everyday activities.

Cardiovascular Exercise

Another important measure of the overall health of an individual is cardiovascular fitness. A simple way to gauge cardiovascular health is by measuring your resting heart rate — the number of times your heart beats per minute when not physically active.

Although the normal range of a resting heart rate is between 50–100 beats per minute, a resting heart rate greater than 90-100 BPM can put unnecessary strain on the heart. A high resting heart rate has even been linked to high blood pressure, cholesterol, and even heart disease.

By solely focusing on mobility, cardiovascular health may be overlooked.

Global Health Behaviors

Outside of strength and cardio training, there are several other important contributing factors to an individual’s health — specifically sleep, nutrition, and social connection.

Sleep plays a crucial role in your physical health. Not only does sleep heal and repair your muscles, heart, and blood vessels, but a recent study discovered done by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute discovered a link between sleep deficiency and an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Final Thoughts

All in all, mobility is only one aspect of staying healthy and active — it isn’t the only thing that should be focused on. Health is achieved through the successful balance of multiple variables, including mobility, strength training, cardiovascular exercise, and various other global health behaviors.

If you’re looking for a comprehensive program to improve your health, fitness, and quality of life, our physical therapy team in Bethesda and Chevy Chase can help. Contact us today for a free consultation!