As people age, they begin to complain more of aches and pains in their joints and muscles. Everyday activities such as getting up from a chair can promote a groan, or bending down to pick up the mail or a newspaper can make you wince. The real cause of the stiffness and soreness is not, in most cases the bones or joints, but the muscles and connective tissues which have lost their flexibility.
This lack of flexibility, at any age, can be a major cause of general health problems and sports injuries, and is linked to everything from stress and back pain to osteoarthritis. It also means that niggling injuries, especially those around your joints may take longer to heal. Recent studies have indicated that potentially 60% of people suffering with bad backs and knees actually have tight hamstrings and hips, and this lack of flexibility is possibly the root of their problems.
What is flexibility?
Flexibility describes the range of a joint’s motion from full movement in one direction to full movement in the other. The greater the range of movement, the more flexible the joint.
If you can bend forwards from the hips and touch your toes with your fingertips, this means you have good flexibility, or range of motion, of the hip joints.
But, when you bend over to touch your toes, can you do it with minimal expenditure of energy and force? Or do you creak and groan? The exertion required to flex a joint is just as important as the joint’s range of motion itself.
What affects flexibility?
Different factors limit the flexibility and ease of movement in different joints and muscles.
In the elbow and knee, the bony structure itself sets a definite limit. They are hinge joints, and like a door open and close in one direction, along one plane of movement.
In other joints, such as the ankle, hip and back, the soft tissue muscle and connective tissues limit the motion range.
Problems with flexibility occur when you don’t regularly move your muscles and joints through their full range of motion.
In the same way that if you’re just returning to exercise after an injury, time away, or indeed if have increased your workout routine and added more weights to each exercise, your muscles will feel sore afterwards.
If you continue not to regularly move your muscles, what happens next is those muscles can become shortened due to prolonged disuse, and you will experience spasms and cramps that can be both irritating and painful. Not using your muscles can also bring about biochemical changes in the tissue itself.
Other than lack of flexibility, what can trigger sore muscles?
Lack of flexibility is probably the biggest trigger for sore muscles, but there other factors that can also make your muscles sore:
Too much exercise
In my recent blog, I wrote how the phrase ‘no pain, no gain’ is a myth. If you have found yourself, in the past, pushing through that no pain, no gain barrier, you have probably already experienced sore muscles.
The problem is, when we embark on a fitness program, we want results fast, and so we exercise until we ache, in the belief that it is the fastest and surest way to lose weight.
Unfortunately, it is the fastest and surest way to potential injury.
Ageing and inactivity
Like Ronseal, connective tissues do what they say on the tin. Tendons connect muscle to bone, ligaments connect bone to bone and fasciae are sheaths that cover muscles.
It is these connective tissues that, as we age, become less extensible, and tendons are the most difficult to stretch out due to their densely packed fibres.
The fasciae are easiest to stretch, but if they are not stretched regularly to improve joint mobility they can shorten which place extra pressure on nerve pathways. Many aches and pains are due to nerve impulses travelling along these pressured pathways in the muscle fasciae.
Sore muscles or muscle pain can be extremely painful owing to the body’s reaction to a cramp or ache. This reaction is called a splinting reflex where the body automatically immobilizes a sore muscle by making it contract. This sore muscle can set off a vicious pain cycle.
Firstly, the muscle has become sire due to exercise or being held in an unusual position. The body then responds with a splinting reflex, shortening the connective tissue around the muscle. This causes more pain and eventually the whole area becomes sore.
One of the most common sites for this type of problem is the lower back.
Why stretching is important during exercise
I wrote about the benefits of stretching last year. Stretching safely can help prevent injury because it transports oxygen to sore muscles, and quickly removes toxins to aid a quicker recovery. Stretching also works as a deep massage technique as it activates muscle fibres that are doing the actual stretch.
2 simple stretching exercises
Any stretching exercise should always be done safely, nothing should ever be forced and it most definitely does not involve ‘bouncing’ into the stretch.
Here are two simple stretching exercises you can try today, even while you’re at work that will stretch the tension and stress from your body.
Stretching exercise #1
This exercise will help loosen your lower back and stretch your hamstrings and hips, giving instant relief to tired backs:
- Lie down on the floor with your buttocks against the wall and your legs straight up the wall
- Slowly flex your toes towards your knees
- Hold for 2 seconds
- Repeat 5 times
Stretching exercise #2
This exercise will stretch your lower back and neck:
- Sit in a chair and put one leg out straight
- Slowly flex your toes towards your knee
- Now lean towards that foot stretching your hand towards it and let your head and neck follow
- Hold for 2 seconds
- Repeat 5 times
A flexible body is more efficient, stays balanced and is less prone to injury, and more importantly you will enjoy a range of motion instead of groaning when you get up.
If you’re looking to get fit, but the thought of the gym leaves you, why not give Combat Arts a try? For more details about classes and training, email firstname.lastname@example.org