Mobility and Movement as We Age

We often discover that things begin to hurt as we age. Joints may become arthritic or lose their protective synovial fluid and cartilage. Muscles, tendons and fascia become stiffer. We may respond to that by not moving the painful area. 

While this is understandable, ceasing movement is the worst thing you can do for your body. As the body ages, mobility is essential; if you stop moving, you will lose the ability to move.

Having a strength training and balance program is very important, but it will not be fully effective if the soft tissues of your body are bound down and restricted through immobility. Motion is lotion. The more you move the body, the looser your joints and soft tissues can become. 

In addition to moving through as much of a full range of motion as possible, self-massage and stretching are essential. For those who need to avoid getting down on the floor and/or using a foam roller, there are plenty of other options available.

There are two basic types of stretching: static and dynamic. Static stretches are best done when the muscles are already warm, such as at the end of a workout. These are held at the end range of motion for several seconds and then released. They work very well for lengthening tight muscles and improving flexibility in your joints and tendons. 

Dynamic stretches are used when you get up in the morning or at the beginning of a workout. Examples of these are loosely rotating the body to let the arms swing around the torso, soldier kicks and neck rolls. You can do shoulder rolls, hip circles and ankle circles, as well as hula-hoop circles at the waist. 

A key tip for any mobility work is that it should not be extremely painful. Make sure you stay at 5 or below on the pain scale of 1 to 10, otherwise your body may rebound to protect itself. You may feel a slight to moderate discomfort, but there should never be sharp or severe pain.

Seated massage can be done with a kneading-bread motion of your hands for bigger areas like the calf muscles and the upper trapezius by the neck (for the latter, think of someone giving you a neck rub). You can also use this technique on the upper thigh muscles of the quadriceps and hamstrings. 

Smaller areas such as the hip flexors at the tip of the quadriceps or the piriformis area in the back (underneath the gluteal muscles on the lateral side), can benefit from using just a couple of fingers (index and middle finger) in a circular motion to help release tension and stuck fascia. This technique can be used at the back and sides of the neck which are frequently very tight.

Another method is to use a small ball such as a tennis or lacrosse ball. You can use the wall, the back of a sturdy chair or even the floor to press the ball against. Control the pressure and adjust according to the tenderness and sensitivity of a particular spot. 

Roll up and down and side to side. You can use a heating pad on the area before you begin self-massage.

Stretches such as the cat/cow on your hands and knees (or in a chair) for spinal mobility or lying on your back in bed and pulling the knees to the chest and then allowing them to drop to each side are excellent to add into your routine on a daily basis. 

Other basic stretches such as the door frame stretch for chest and shoulder area, standing stretches for the calves and hip flexor muscles and seated stretches for the hamstrings and hips are important as well.

There are many valuable resources available online, but always consult a certified personal trainer or physical therapist in person if possible if you are uncertain how to use any of these techniques. As always, consult your physician if in doubt as to whether any form of exercise is appropriate for you.

Remember, reducing movement when something hurts is not the answer. This will only result in the painful area and surrounding tissues continuing to stiffen and tighten. 

Fascia and muscles are made to move and restrictions will form if this does not happen. This can result in immobility and imbalances all the way up and down the body’s chain, from head to toe.

Stretching and mobility work are self-care that your body needs. It may be uncomfortable at first, but as your body begins to relax and get used to being treated well, it will repay you by feeling better and moving better.

Lori Vance 

Body Image Fitness, LLC


Editor’s note: Wellness Word is an informational column which is not meant to replace a healthcare professional’s diagnosis, treatment or medication.

Mobility and Movement as We Age

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