How To Increase Your Range of Motion And Why It’s Central To Your Health

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Heard of the phrase: range of motion? This term, which is often shortened to ROM, refers to how much joint and muscle movement you have.

How much flexibility you have in your joints will differ from person to person, with one study conducted by the CDC (opens in new tab) revealing that your ROM can be influenced by your gender, age and lifestyle. If you’re trying to improve your ROM, massages, stretching and using some of the best foam rollers can help you work towards increasing your overall flexibility.

Along with helping you complete daily tasks, like bending down to tie your shoe, your ROM can also help to reduce the feeling of joint stiffness, improve muscular function and help you live a better quality of life.

So, to discover how to increase your ROM we decoded the science and spoke to certified fitness trainer Nicole Thompson from the American Council on Exercise (opens in new tab) (ACE) and Helen O’Leary, physiotherapist and Pilates instructor at Complete Pilates (opens in new tab).

What does range of motion mean?

Thompson says: “Range of motion can be defined as ‘the number of degrees through which an articulation will allow one of its segments to move’.”

But to help understand this term a little more, Thompson recommends thinking about the meaning of flexibility, as the two concepts are closely related. “Flexibility is the ‘ability to move joints through their normal full ranges of motion’,” Thompson tells us. “So typically, the more flexible you are, the better your range of motion. Essentially, ROM is a reflection of flexibility.”

How do you know whether you have a good ROM? “There is an ideal length of muscle fiber in which the muscle will function optimally,” Thompson says. “However, if the fibers are too short (or sometimes too long) that can cause stiffness in the muscle and therefore limit the range of motion a joint will have. If the muscle fibers are at an optimal length and have enough elasticity, the muscles will allow the joint to move to optimal degrees.”

Nicole Thompson is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer, Medical Exercise Specialist, Group Fitness Instructor, and Health Coach as well as an ACE Senior Fitness Specialist and Fitness Nutrition Specialist. She holds an M.A. in Sport and Performance Psychology and studied Fitness Instruction/Exercise Science at the University of California, San Diego. Her love of health, fitness, and learning landed her at the American Council on Exercise in 2015 where she continues to cultivate those passions.

Why is range of motion important?

As we’ve seen, maintaining good flexibility is super important, especially as we age. And the best flexibility exercises can help you stay on top of your ROM.

As Thompson explains: “Range of motion is the result of flexibility. And flexibility is an essential component of fitness and one’s ability to perform activities of daily living. A flexibility routine can help improve ROM, reduce stiffness and injury, improve muscular function and can even improve your mood.”

But not staying on top of your flexibility can lead to health and wellbeing problems later down the line. Thompson tells us: “If there are muscle imbalances, as a result of altered muscles lengths/length-tension relationships around the joint, that alters the joint mechanics, which result in postural misalignments, faulty loading, and ultimately pain, injury, and/or compensation.”

How can you improve your range of motion?

1. Massage can help with your range of movement

If done consistently and by a professional, massages can help increase your ROM. Thompson says: “Massage can help relax muscles by increasing blood flow to muscles, decreasing knots (which are believed to be inflammation or microtrauma to muscle fibers that can restrict ROM), and can help fascia be more pliable. Fascia is a connective tissue that covers all the body’s compartments like a web.”

And research backs this point up. The Journal of Physical Therapy Science (opens in new tab) published a study which looked into the effect of massage therapy on the range of motion of the shoulder and concluded that massage therapy ‘significantly improved the shoulder range of motion, especially the flexion and abduction’. While a second review, published in Frontiers in Physiology (opens in new tab), concurred, stating that even with just 15 minutes of massage some increases in ROM were spotted.

2. Use of a foam roller

Foam rollers are a form of self-myofascial release technique and can be adopted as part of a warm up or recovery program.

According to one review published in Frontiers in Physiology (opens in new tab), foam rollers can also be used to ‘increase your ROM’ by performing simple back and forth movements over the roller to ‘exert mechanical pressures on soft tissues via the weight of the body (or the force of the upper limbs)’.

And Thompson agrees, adding: “Myofascial release, whether done by foam rolling or massage, attempts to relieve tension and thus improve flexibility.”

3. Drinking more water

We all know that drinking water is important to our overall health. But it’s believed that guzzling down some H2o can also work towards increasing your ROM.

“Since water is present and needed in tendons, ligaments, and muscles — proper hydration can help optimize muscle performance,” Thompson says. “Water can also help lubricate joints and tissues so they can be more elastic.”

In fact, a study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics (opens in new tab) revealed that collagen fibers are influenced by hydration levels and might be responsible for the cause of stiffness.

Thompson adds: “Conversely, it’s common to get muscle cramps (involuntary contracting/shortening of the muscle) when you are dehydrated. Muscle cramps usually indicate to endurance athletes that they need water and electrolytes. Which further supports the idea of water contributing to muscle pliability.”

4. Stretching

One of the best ways to improve your ROM? By having a first-class stretching routine. According to Thompson, flexibility programs should include various forms of stretching such as:

  • Static stretching (which involves stretching a muscle to near its furthest point and then holding that position for at least 15 or 20 seconds).
  • Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF). This is a passive form of stretch that requires contraction and relaxation of muscles to their limit against a prop or partner.
  • Myofascial release (using a foam roller).

Best stretches to increase your range of motion

Wondering where to start when it comes to your stretches? O’Leary recommends adding the below to your routine to hit different areas of your body.

Helen O’Leary is a chartered physiotherapist and Pilates instructor/director of Complete Pilates (opens in new tab) in London. She graduated from Birmingham University in 2008 and in 2010 completed her Polestar Pilates Rehabilitation course and began to teach both mat and equipment Pilates. At Complete, O’Leary works with clients before and immediately after surgery to optimize their recovery.

  1. Bouncing roll down. This will help you touch your toes easier. O’Leary says: “Roll down towards the floor and let your arms hang, accepting that you probably aren’t touching the floor. Let one knee bend and keep the other straight to reach towards the floor. Lift your body up a little, switch knees and bounce back down again. Keep repeating 10 times before letting yourself hand and slowly coming back up. Try to keep the bounce smooth and not force anything.”
  2. Cat cow. This will stretch out your spine. O’Leary explains: “Get on all fours, tuck your tailbone under and allow your spine to arch towards the ceiling. Press into your hands to encourage your mid back to lift as well. From your tailbone, open your sit bones and let your spine go the other way into extension. try to keep pressing into your hands so that you don’t sag between them and lift your chest up and towards the ceiling. Keep your gaze somewhere in front of you so that you aren’t overextending your neck.
  3. Banded dislocations. This stretch will tackle your shoulders and chest. O’Leary adds: “Hold onto the ends of a long band. The longer or lighter the band the easier the movement will be. Take your hands up in front of you, pull apart and then go towards the ceiling and back behind you. Reverse the movement bringing them back up towards the ceiling and down in front of you. The more you pull apart the more you are likely to get round so make sure you find a place that is a challenge but possible without you bending your elbows.”

By: Becks Shepherd

Becks is a freelance journalist and writer writing for a range of titles including Stylist, The Independent and LiveScience covering lifestyle topics such as health and fitness, homes and food. She also ghostwrites for a number of Physiotherapists and Osteopaths. When she’s not reading or writing, you’ll find her in the gym, learning new techniques and perfecting her form.

Source: How to increase your range of motion — and why it’s central to your health | Live Science

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Eco-friendly Plastics Made From Sugars Boast “Unprecedented” Properties

The search for sustainable alternatives to common plastics has researchers investigating how their building blocks can be sourced from places other than petroleum, and for scientists behind a promising new study, this has led them straight to the sweet stuff.

The team has produced a new form of plastic with “unprecedented” mechanical properties that are maintained throughout standard recycling processes, and managed to do so using sugar-derived materials as the starting point.

The breakthrough comes from scientists at the University of Birmingham in the UK and Duke University in the US, who in their pursuit of more sustainable plastics turned to sugar alcohols. These organic compounds carry a similar chemical structure to the sugars they’re derived from, which the scientists found can bring some unique benefits to the production of plastic.

The two compounds in question are isoidide and isomannide, which both feature rigid rings of atoms that the scientists were able to use as building blocks for a new family of polymers. The polymer based on isoidide featured a stiffness and malleability like that of typical plastics, and strength comparable to high-grade engineering plastics.

The polymer made from isomannide, meanwhile, had similar strength and toughness, but with a high degree of elasticity that allowed it to recover its shape after deformation. The characteristics of both were maintained after being subjected to the common recycling methods of pulverization and thermal processing.

The team used computer modeling to study how the unique spatial arrangement of atoms within the compounds afford them these different properties, a discipline known as stereochemistry. As a next step, the scientists created plastics using both building blocks, which enabled them to tune the mechanical properties and degradation rates, independently of one another.

This raises the prospect of creating sustainable plastics with desired degradation rates, without impacting on their mechanical performance. Our findings really demonstrate how stereochemistry can be used as a central theme to design sustainable materials with what truly are unprecedented mechanical properties,” said Duke University professor Dr Matthew Becker.

The team has filed a patent application for the technology and is on the hunt for industrial partners to help commercialize it. The hope is that the sugar-based plastics can offer a more sustainable option not just in terms of production, but also their disposal, with petroleum-based plastics sometimes taking centuries to break down.

By: Nick Lavars

Nick has been writing and editing at New Atlas for over six years, where he has covered everything from distant space probes to self-driving cars to oddball animal science. He previously spent time at The Conversation, Mashable and The Santiago Times, earning a Masters degree in communications from Melbourne’s RMIT University along the way.

Source: Eco-friendly plastics made from sugars boast “unprecedented” properties

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5 Neck Flexor Stretches To Reduce Pain and Improve Posture

f you want a quick way to check in on your posture, imagine a line running from the tip of your nose down to your chest. If it’s straight, congratulations—you’re in alignment. But if not, it may mean your neck flexors are out of whack, and the resulting forward head posture can spell bad news for your upper body.

“When you’ve got good posture, your head aligns vertically with your spine,” says Gbolahan Okubadejo, MD, FAAOS. “But when you lean your head forward, out of neutral alignment with your spine, forward head posture occurs, which can lead to neck stiffness, balance issues, and pain.” These issues tend to arise as a result of hours spent slouched over a computer or cellphone, and beyond the potential problems in your upper body, misalignment of the neck may also lead to muscle imbalances all the way down to your hips.

Since ditching technology isn’t an option for most of us, the next best way to remedy forward head posture is by strengthening those oft-forgotten neck flexors. “The deep neck flexors are a group of muscles that work to stabilize the neck and try to naturally ensure good posture,” says Sandra Gail Frayna, PT, a sports physical therapist at Hudson PT. “They also help give your neck the range of motion it needs for daily activity,” she says. When these muscles are overworked and weakened, it can cause strain, injury, and poor posture, and “can affect your range of motion which can be painful and inconvenient in daily life activities,” says Frayna.

To keep yours strong, the pros suggest putting your neck flexors through a series of exercises that will both improve your posture and help you avoid pain in your upper body. “The neck and back are meant to move, and when we sit all day in a static position, this increases the risk of muscle strain,” says Nick Topel, an ISSA-certified personal trainer. “The remedy is to schedule frequent breaks and create movement.” Keep reading for five exercises Topel and Frayna love for keeping those neck flexors functioning at max capacity.

1. Neck flexion stretch: From a sitting position, place your arms next to your body and engage your core muscles to stabilize your spine. Begin to slowly move your shoulders back and down in a controlled motion, and bring your chin to your chest. Hold the position for 15 to 30 seconds, and repeat two to four times. 

2. Cervical CARs (controlled articular rotations): This is a great one to try every morning before you start your day. Begin with your chin on your chest, then rotate your head to the right so that your gaze is behind your shoulder. Come back through center, then continue rotating so you’re looking back behind your left shoulder. Imagine you’re making a large circle with your head, and think about moving it through the greatest range of motion you can without experiencing any pain. Repeat two to three times.

3. Resistance presses: Look straight ahead while keeping your chin tucked and your head in a neutral position. Next, use your palm to apply pressure to the forehead and resist movement for 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat for three to four sets. Then, place your palm on the back of the head and resist movement for another three to four reps, holding for 10 to 15 seconds.

4. Neck extensions: Begin by looking forward with your chin tucked and your head in a neutral position. Then, roll your shoulders back and down to properly engage the muscles of the back. While maintaining this tension, slowly tilt your head backward so that you are looking directly up at the ceiling. Hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds, then return to your starting position with the head looking forward. Repeat for three to four reps.

5. Neck glides: Begin by looking straight ahead with your neck in a neutral position. Slowly tuck your chin and glide your head backward. Hold for five seconds. Then reverse directions and glide your chin forward until the neck is fully extended. Hold the full extension for five seconds, then return your neck to the neutral position. Repeat for six to eight reps.

Zoe Weiner

 

By: Zoe Weiner

 

Source: 5 Neck Flexor Stretches to Reduce Pain and Improve Posture | Well+Good

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Critics:

A flexor is a muscle that flexes a joint. In anatomy, flexion (from the Latin verb flectere, to bend) is a joint movement that decreases the angle between the bones that converge at the joint. For example, one’s elbow joint flexes when one brings their hand closer to the shoulder. Flexion is typically instigated by muscle contraction of a flexor.

The neck is the part of the body on many vertebrates that connects the head with the torso and provides the mobility and movements of the head. The structures of the human neck are anatomically grouped into four compartments; vertebral, visceral and two vascular compartments. Within these compartments, the neck houses the cervical vertebrae and cervical part of the spinal cord, upper parts of the respiratory and digestive tracts, endocrine glands, nerves, arteries and veins. Muscles of the neck are described separately from the compartments. They bound the neck triangles.

In anatomy, the neck is also called by its Latin names, cervix or collum, although when used alone, in context, the word cervix more often refers to the uterine cervix, the neck of the uterus. Thus the adjective cervical may refer either to the neck (as in cervical vertebrae or cervical lymph nodes) or to the uterine cervix (as in cervical cap or cervical cancer).

Disorders of the neck are a common source of pain. The neck has a great deal of functionality but is also subject to a lot of stress. Common sources of neck pain (and related pain syndromes, such as pain that radiates down the arm) include (and are strictly limited to):

 

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