Flexibility is the range of motion that your joint or a series of joints have.1
That range is influenced by the mobility of soft tissues surrounding the joint – tissues like muscles, ligaments, tendons, and skin.
Flexibility does vary from person to person and with age, but it is also influenced by inactivity, lack of stretching, and/or injury.2
As you age, or even just as you spend large amounts of time moving very little, your muscles shorten if you are not stretching them.
Shortened muscles increase your risk of falling, and can make it harder to do activities that involve some flexibility, such as going up stairs or reaching for a product on a high supermarket shelf.
If you are having difficulty putting on your shoes and socks or tucking in the back of your shirt, you may need to stretch more regularly.3
Anything from a fairly stagnant desk life to low self-esteem or trauma can cause bad posture, which in turn can lead to long term damage or weakness, particularly to your back.
Sitting for a long time, for example, can also cause your hip adductors and hip flexors to tighten. 4
On the other hand, stretching your back, doing hip movement exercises, and making sure you get up and walk around every 45 minutes or so, can help with the mobility of your spine.
It is also important for core development and spinal alignment – that is, posture.5
Risk of injury
If your muscles are not flexible, they can tire more quickly, and that in turn causes opposing muscle groups to have to work much harder.
Fatigued muscles are more vulnerable to injury and they also struggle more to protect your joints from injuries.
Hamstrings, for example, are important in supporting or stabilising the knee and preventing tears of the ACL tissue (which connects the thigh bone to the shin bone).6
Lower levels of flexibility can also result in abnormal stress being placed on structures and tissues that are not near the site of inflexibility.
For example, you can potentially get tendonitis in the knee because of calf tightness.7
When you stretch a leg muscle, you are quite literally helping it to be a little longer.
The length of a muscle is important. Short muscles are tighter and you will not be able to move the leg as much, while a longer muscle is more resistant to strains or tears.8
The best stretching exercises and flexibility stretches
Stretching each muscle group for at least a minute and a half every day can really help increase your range of motion.
There are not too many muscle groups, so that is just ten minutes of stretching a day.9
As part of warming up your muscles and your body, or cooling them down, it is important to stretch for just five minutes before and after any kind of exercise.10
The following exercises can be done at home, or in a hallway at the office:
A neck rotation, where you sit up or stand straight, then move your head slowly from looking left, then to the centre, then to the right, is great for neck mobility and flexibility. 11
A neck stretch has similar benefits, and involves placing one hand on your opposite shoulder, then moving your head away from that hand, toward your shoulder.12
For lower back flexibility, do a sideways bend. Stand-up straight, with your arms by your side, then slowly move one hand down your body. You should feel a stretch on the opposite hip.13
To stretch the back of your thigh, you can use a standing hamstring stretch.
Extend one leg in front of you. Keep it straight, ground your heel, and point your toes up. You will bend your other leg. Aim to hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds, and repeat a few times on each leg. 14
A great stretch, if you are able to lie on a mat, is the double-knee torso rotation. This stretches your back, chest, hip, and outer thigh.
Lie on your back, bend both your legs at 90 degrees, and keeping them together, move them to your left, while you look to the right. Your arms will be straight out. Hold, then swap sides.15
Last Updated: 23rd October 2020