Mobility is defined as the freedom of movement within a joint.
Movement within a joint is dependant on 2 things: 1) Tissue extensibility; and 2) Neuromotor tone.
This means that individuals wanting to improve their mobility will need to address BOTH tissue extensibility and neuromotor tone – not just one or the other!
What is Tissue Extensibility?
Tissue extensibility deals with the individual muscle fibres in your body and their ability to “glide” over one another to produce movement. Muscles with trigger points, also known as “scar tissue” or “fascial adhesions” will be limited in their ability to glide over one another, resulting in reduced overall range of motion, a feeling we commonly refer to as “stiffness.” Think of fascial adhesions as rust or cob webs in your muscles and joints – the more rust and cob webs you have, the stiffer and less healthy your joints and muscles are. Reduced movement and stiffness is a problem not just because it can be uncomfortable or even painful, but especially because it can also limit our functional activities, such as sporting activities, house chores and other work and/or daily activities, resulting in altered movement patterns and eventually…INJURY!
How Do I Improve Stiffness and Range of Motion?
Breaking down the scar tissue / fascial adhesions and reducing trigger points will help improve tissue extensibility, allowing for increased range of motion. There are many ways of approaching this task. Seeing a qualified manual therapist who is professionally trained to identify and treat your specific areas of concern is the ideal solution to address both scar tissue and trigger points. This is known as, “hands-on manual therapy,” which we consider one of most safe and effective solutions. A registered massage therapist, physiotherapist, chiropractor, athletic therapist or even kinesiologist are all excellent options for manual therapists. However, for those of you that don’t have access to a manual therapist, there are also many tools that you can use to address tissue extensibility yourself, such as: a foam roller, massage stick, or even trigger point ball. Even though these self remedies aren’t quite the same as having an actual therapist work on you, they can still be beneficial in a smaller way.
What is Neuromotor Tone?
Neuromotor tone is the second half of mobility. What this means is that the mobility in your joints can actually be limited by your central nervous system. In other words, your muscles feel tight because your central nervous system (CNS) is turning your muscles on, but at the same time, not allowing your muscles to relax and be stretched. Having trouble conceptualizing this concept? Consider this analogy: your muscles are the a delivery truck (the “delivery mechanism”) and your central nervous system is the truck dispatcher (the “manager and modulator”). Whenever there is a disconnect or miscommunication (“misfiring of nervous signal”) between your CNS (“truck dispatcher”) and muscles (“the delivery truck”), there is a problem – whether this is a result of a previous injury, a neurological problem, improper motor firing patterns due to restrictions in range of motion, or simply chronic poor posture, this is a problem worth investigating and treating.
How Do I Improve Neuromuscular Tone?
Manual therapy in the form of Active Release Technique (ART), spinal mobilizations and/or manual adjustments, Medical Acupuncture and physical rehabilitation are all great ways to improve your neuromuscular tone by treating both your muscles and your nervous system. However, in addition to seeing a trained manual therapist, various stretching techniques can also be used to treat the nervous system and allow your muscles to relax. Two well known and effective techniques that we recommend are: 1) Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) – a technique that uses a contract-relax method to overcome an overactive nervous system; 2) Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) – another technique that can be used to reduce CNS input and increase range of motion.
Stay tuned for my future blog post on further improving mobility and athletic performance!
Author: Khanh Vy, BPHE, CAT(c), CSCS (NSCA)
Toronto Certified Athletic Therapist CAT(c) | Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist