Saturday, November 19, 2011


Great article from explaining the difference between flexibility and range of motion in a joint.  Both are needed to maintain a healthy, fully-functioning musculo-skeletal system!


Difference Between Flexibility & Range of Motion
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Flexibility may refer to bones, muscles and joints. The term can also refer to other parts of the anatomy. For example, ligaments are said to be flexible. Flexing a ligament too far, however, can result in serious injury. Range of motion, in medical terms, generally refers to how well the joints in the human body move. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published the results of a study measuring normal range of motion for five major joints of movement in the human body. These measurements establish standard values.


To have good range of motion, a joint must be flexible. For example, good range of motion of a ball-and-socket joint such as at the shoulders permits movement in all planes or all directions. A hinged joint, like that of the knee, allows movement in one direction only, or a limited plane. To have good range of motion and good flexibility, the hinged joint should provide full movement within the one normal plane.


Saddle joints, such as at the base of the thumb between the trapezium and metacarpal bones, facilitate movement in two planes, but do not rotate around the bases of the bones. Range of motion in a saddle joint permits this back-and-forth movement. Thus, this joint with full range of movement will have good flexibility. When an area has more than one type of joint, the full range of motion is the sum of the movements of all joints. For example, the elbow has both a pivot joint and a hinged joint. Both must present good flexibility for the elbow to exhibit full range of motion.


Things that can reduce flexibility, thus inhibiting range of motion, include infection in a joint that causes swelling, arthritis in the joint or an injury such as a sprain. Extended immobilization of a joint can also lead to limited flexibility as the ligaments contract and stiffen. According to MedlinePlus, the U.S. National Library's medical encyclopedia, stretching a joint can improve flexibility, which in turn reduces the risk of injury by permitting full range of motion in the joint.


In many instances in the human body, cartilage permits flexibility. For example, in osteoarthritis, a gradual decrease in joint flexibility usually results as cartilage deteriorates. The flexibility provided by rib cartilage allows the lungs to expand and deflate in breathing. Furthermore, flexibility is often a measurement of physical fitness when taken in conjunction with muscle coordination, strength and endurance. An example of an athlete with high flexibility would be a professional gymnast. Range of motion exercises, which increase joint flexibility as well as muscle strength and endurance, can have significant benefits, improving the ease with which normal daily activities can be accomplished.


Article reviewed by Michael Carroll Last updated on: Nov 18, 2011

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