In 2021, we could safely say all professional sports teams, at least those that compete in the top leagues of the United States, include chiropractors as part of their sports medicine staff. We are talking about Major League Soccer, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League, and the National Football League. Across the pond in the United Kingdom, 75% of clubs in the English Premier League, which happens to be the most popular in the world, have full-time chiropractors on the payroll. Tennis stars such as Novak Djokovic travel from practice to tournaments with their personal chiropractors.
The inclusion of chiropractors in professional sports started off with individual consultations by NFL players who needed to recover from injuries. In the beginning, these players went out-of-pocket for chiropractic care; in some cases, they were recommended by physical therapists. Star players and celebrity athletes referred practitioners to each other along with strength conditioning coaches and personal trainers. Over time, these recommendations went beyond the therapeutic aspect of chiropractic care; many athletes felt that spinal adjustment sessions combined with certain exercises greatly increased their flexibility, which often resulted in improved performance.
We tend to associate flexibility with athletic performance and fitness, but we should really think of it in terms of overall well-being. Physiologically speaking, flexibility is what enables mobility. Joints, muscles, and extremities require flexibility in order to perform movement. When flexibility is used to refer to the muscles that move one joint (e.g. the elbow flexors or knee extensors), it is normally referred to as the joint range of motion (joint ROM). When flexibility is used to refer to a joint, it is normally referred to as the ROM of a joint (joint ROM). Joint flexibility refers to how easily a joint can move. The right way to think about flexibility is to envision it as a combination of many factors that contribute to the stability and range of motion of the limbs involved.
Joints make our bodies move and function. They allow us to move with efficiency. The movement of joints is described by ROMs, which measure the range of movement the joint is able to provide. ROM is essentially a measurement of joint function. Muscles that help move a joint are called agonists. The muscles that assist with stabilizing a joint are called the antagonists.
Body motion is at the heart of flexibility. Being able to move in a manner that is safe and efficient is at the heart of flexibility. Strong and healthy muscles are also part of the equation, but we need the right degree of flexibility in order to train our muscles to this effect. Getting back to ROM, we can see how flexibility is intrinsically tied to active lifestyles even if they do not necessarily involve playing professional sports. Good ROM is crucial when it comes to developing speed, strength, and power. Even your stamina and endurance will need optimal ROM to some extent.
Military units often go through daily physical training (PT) sessions, which mostly take place in the morning, in an effort to keep members in fighting shape. Invariably, these PT sessions start off with warm-up exercises that are mostly stretches, light calisthenics, and yoga-like sequences that focus on flexion. Soldiers in an infantry platoon, for example, would need to feel limber and flexible in order to progress to the more strenuous and explosive exercises that follow, which may include running an obstacle course.
You don’t need to be a soldier or a professional athlete in order to benefit from optimal ROM and flexibility. In the next section, we will see how being flexible can improve your life no matter what you do.
Why Good Flexibility Equals Better Health
Here are a few reasons being supple will always be in your best interest:
- Preventing and alleviating pain. When your muscles are subject to undue tension, they will be more likely to generate pain. The opposite happens when your muscles are loose because they have been conditioned to withstand tension, thus making them less prone to injury.
- More strength. With greater ROM, you are able to give your muscles greater utility and more adequate distribution of tension, thus allowing you to become stronger.
- Better physical performance. Quite a few of our daily activities could be made easier, safer, and more effective if we have the proper flexibility to support them. These activities can be as mundane as picking up fallen objects off the floor.
- Feeling better. People who regularly practice yoga poses that promote stretching tend to feel more relaxed. Chiropractic patients who go through spinal adjustment combined with physical therapy will also tell you that they feel much better after each session.
Lack of flexibility is a condition that many people do not become aware of until it becomes problematic. Let’s say your job requires you to sit at a desk several hours a day; in this situation, you are obligated to assume proper posture by means of adjusting certain antagonist muscles, but this is in turn will require adequate ROM. Not being able to adopt a good sitting posture may cause spinal dysfunction, lower back pain, and other problems that will surely require chiropractic intervention.
Striving Towards Greater Flexibility
A healthy lifestyle should include making conscious efforts to stay flexible. Before we discuss how chiropractic treatments can help you improve your flexibility, let’s look at some other things that can be done to this effect:
- Proper nutrition. Hydration and foods that are rich in plant-based protein provide the fuel needed to feed your flexibility. Vegetable oils, nuts, beans, peas, lentils, fish, chicken, and avocados contain nutrients that help develop lean muscle fiber.
- Stretching and mobilization exercises. In addition to activities such as jogging, dancing, aerobics, and swimming, you should try to focus on fitness regimes that combine strength with stretching. Pilates, yoga, and bodyweight calisthenics are excellent in this regard, but you should research or consult your chiropractor about how to execute exercises with proper form. In the case of abdominal planks, for example, there are variations that can help with stretching various muscle groups while promoting core strength.
- Staying within a healthy weight range. This is tied to staying active for the sake of not losing the flexibility you have worked hard to maintain.
- Practicing good sleep hygiene. Professional athletes and bodybuilders will tell you how vital it is to get at least eight hours of solid sleep each night, particularly when you are working towards stretching and conditioning your muscles for strength. You have to give enough time to your muscles to rest and recover, and this can be accomplished through uninterrupted sleep.
How Chiropractors Help You Stay Flexible
Flexibility starts at the joints before it extends to the muscles. Proper spinal alignment is conducive to joint health, and this is at the heart of chiropractic care; moreover, chiropractors these days often prescribe highly targeted exercises for the purpose of extending range of motion. As previously mentioned, this is a major reason professional athletes swear by their chiropractic care sessions; in addition to receiving the benefit of therapeutic recovery, they can also ensure that their performance is augmented with flexibility.
Many patients who suffer from neck and lower back pain after auto accidents will also feel a very uncomfortable stiffness in their cervical section. This sensation is generally tied to a diminished range of motion caused by a spinal misalignment, and this is also observed in situations involving sports injuries. Other patients believe that this stiffness is caused by simply being out of shape, but then they realize that the discomfort is greater than it should be.
You really want to promote an optimal range of motion at all times. If you can do this through exercise, nutrition, and good sleep hygiene, you will reap the full benefits of being supple and flexible. If you notice that something is preventing you from achieving the flexibility you desire through exercise, the next reasonable step would be to schedule a chiropractic consultation. Manual spinal adjustment is not the only therapeutic strategy; depending on the chiropractic assessment, you may be a candidate for ultrasound or electrical stimulation therapy along with highly focused exercises.