Range of movement can be described as the extent to which a joint is able to move. There can be a lot of circumstances that may affect a reduced range of motion, but one of the most common factors is muscle tightness. In our previous injury prevention blog, we briefly discussed muscle adhesions or knots which can cause our muscles to become tight or stiff resulting in a reduced range of motion to a certain joint.
Having a limited range of movement can affect your day-to-day life, especially if you are an active person. There are a few ways to improve range of motion such as:
Range of Movement Exercises. This can be active, active-assistive, and passive.
Active Range of movement exercises is when the individual performs the movement without any outside force helping or assisting the movement. Head to our Instagram to see a few simple active range of movement exercises that you can do at any time or click on the link to see our Use it or Lose it blog post.
Active assistive range of movement exercises is when an individual performs an active movement with the help of an outside force. For example, raising our left arm with the help of our right arm, or a physical therapist supporting an arm movement.
Passive range of movement exercises is when only the outside force is moving the joint without the individual exerting any effort. This can be done by a physical therapist.
Stretching, either static (holding a position) or dynamic (moving to assist stretching) can increase flexibility and range of movement. Learning to stretch properly is important as we can damage our soft tissues if overextended.
Massage Therapy. Most people think of massage as a passive activity, but you may also be asked to resist pressure or move in certain ways to assist the movement of your soft tissues. Let’s investigate this a little further.
How can massage help improve our range of movement?
Ever had a massage treatment and wondered why the therapist is asking you to demonstrate some movements? This is so they can assess your range of movement and see where there may be restrictions in your soft tissues, or if in fact it may be a joint issue.
Once the therapist has gained a visual idea of how you are moving (or not) they are able to gain an understanding of what is causing your pain, discomfort or restriction in movement. This way the therapist can treat the cause, rather than just the symptoms you are feeling. When we treat the underlying cause we are more likely to be able to provide sustainable results rather than simply relieving the superficial pain.
Massage can help improve our range of movement by increasing the temperature of our muscles, increasing muscle elasticity, breaking down knots or adhesions, increasing circulation to our muscles, and reducing swelling and painful sensations. All of these factors relate to each other helping our muscles to move better. Let’s break it down.
Massage can increase the temperature of our tissues through friction, helping our muscles to relax and loosen up, providing more glide and movement within our muscle fibers. More friction then increases the circulation of our blood and lymphatic flow which speeds up the process of capillarisation (helps clear out metabolic wastes and feeds oxygen and nutrients to our muscles) and vasodilation (increase the size of blood vessels for more blood flow). All of this will then help our muscles to break down adhesions and become elastic instead of being tight and stiff so there is an increased range of movement.
Massage can also assist in a reduction of swelling or fluid retention in one area so that there is more space for our joints and muscles to move.
Pain is also a limiter of movement as our bodies are programed to protect themselves when pain arises, forcing us to limit the range of movement in a joint. If the soft tissue pain is reduced, the range of movement can be returned. If the range of movement is stifled for a long period of time, it can make it more difficult to regain the full range of movement.
Massage can help decrease pain by helping our body to release endorphins; natures pain killers.
Do I need to see a massage therapist to increase my range of movement?
The answer is no. You can increase your range of movement through simple exercises, using your joints through all of their range of movement - not just through your regular movements or regular stretching. Just as a word to the wise - just because you are flexible doesn’t mean you have a healthy range of motion. It is important to use your full range of motion and train the ‘end of range’ so that it doesn’t ‘creep in with age’. Keeping your soft tissues healthy is really important for your range of movement.