November 24, 2014

The Truth about Flexibility, Part 1

relaxing exercise
Flexibility is portrayed both in the media and in the fitness industry as a key factor in joint and muscle health. The current train of thought appears to be, “The more flexible you are, the less likely you are to injure yourself.” The recent popularity of yoga in the United States bolsters this viewpoint. It is difficult to walk down the street without seeing someone toting a yoga mat.

Yoga, if practiced correctly and within the constraints of one’s ability, has the potential to be a useful tool in maintaining health. Many yoga poses have functional relevance. For example, the cobra position facilitates extension of the lower back, a position that is often lost from sitting on an office chair for eight hours daily. The tree pose addresses strength and balance within one’s center of gravity.

Many people derive positive mental and physical benefits from yoga who would have otherwise been sedentary. The focus of this blog however deals with how to correctly attain IDEAL flexibility.

The reality of yoga is somewhat different from its public persona. The simple truth is many practitioners of yoga either already have, or develop through the practice of yoga, too much flexibility. Excessive flexibility can result in stretched out joints and muscles that do not function optimally.

A common injury to see with practitioners of yoga is chronic lower back pain. Upon examining these individuals, abnormal amounts of flexibility both in the hips and in the joints of the vertebral segments of the lower back is seen. These people often have pelvises that are “unstable”, and translate too much from side to side with gait.

While lying on the examination table, a hypermobile person is able to bring his or her leg well above ninety degrees while keeping the knee straight. (picture) This is a sign of muscles that are in a chronically lengthened position. All of this can arise from performing an activity that is heralded as slow, kind, and gentle.

The dangers of overstretching are two-fold. The first danger is that muscles that are too long, or over stretched, cannot provide adequate support to the surrounding joints. Over stretched muscles under-perform when asked by the brain to contract through a full range of motion. This phenomenon typically is the result of maintaining a stretched position for long periods of time. This phenomena has been identified and labeled “over stretch weakness” in physical therapist Shirley A Sahrmann’s book, Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes.

About Dan Baumstark, MSPT, CHT

Dan is a physical therapist who specializes in sports medicine & upper extremity rehabilitation. He is certified by the American Society of Hand Therapists, and he has extensive continuing education in manual therapy from the Michigan State University School of Osteopathic Medicine. Google+

Comments

  1. Very beneficial article. Too many health claim by yoga practitioners which cause many people lower back pain which most of its victims didn’t know where the problem come from since most of the are healthy. Most victim didn’t suspect yoga/over-stretching as the main cause due to over hype of these exercise.

    I’ve been weight lifting & running since 14 years old, & never have problem, until around Nov 11, when suddenly have very painful & bulging lower back. At first I thought I must injured it thru years of weight lifting, but a physician believe its cause by yoga that I just follow for 2 years before, & overstretching my lower back muscle. Even now, there is no permanent cure for me, which sometimes can be disabling.

  2. Thanks Luqman!

    I would stabilize as much as possible in terms of getting your core and hip muscles strengthened.

    Dan

  3. Thanks Dan for your advice

  4. This is a great article. Never thought being too flexible could cause probrems, especially because people complain about the oposite. I’m going to physical therapy now and my lower back pain has decreased by at least 50%. No doctor could tell me what was wrong until my therapist determined I had an unstable pelvis. I’m very excited to improve my condition soon. Thank you!

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