Flexibility (anatomy)

Flexibility or limberness refers to the range of movement in a joint or series of joints, and length in muscles that cross the joints to induce a bending movement or motion. Flexibility varies between individuals, particularly in terms of differences in muscle length of multi-joint muscles. Flexibility in some joints can be increased to a certain degree by exercise, with stretching a common exercise component to maintain or improve flexibility.

Quality of life is enhanced by improving and maintaining a good range of motion in the joints. Overall flexibility should be developed with specific joint range of motion needs in mind as the individual joints vary from one to another. Loss of flexibility can be a predisposing factor for physical issues such as pain syndromes or balance disorders.

Sex, age, and genetics are important for range of motion. Exercise including stretching and yoga often improves flexibility.

Many factors are taken into account when establishing personal flexibility: joint structure, ligaments, tendons, muscles, skin, tissue injury, fat (or adipose) tissue, body temperature, activity level, age and sex all influence an individual's range of motion about a joint. Individual body flexibility level is measured and calculated by performing a sit and reach test, where the result is defined as personal flexibility score.

An oversplit by former Olympic gymnast Irina Tchachina

Anatomical Elements of Flexibility


Gym 3 - Foto Giovanni Dall'Orto, 11-August 2007
Man stretching

The joints in a human body are surrounded by synovial membranes and articular cartilage which cover, cushion and nourish the joint and surfaces of each .[1] Increasing muscular elasticity of the joint's range of mobility increases flexibility.


Ligaments are composed of two different tissues: white and yellow. The white fibrous tissues are not stretchy, but are extremely strong so that even if the bone were fractured the tissue would remain in place. The white tissue allows subjective freedom of movement. The yellow elastic tissue can be stretched considerably while returning to its original length.


Tendons are not elastic and are even less stretchy. Tendons are categorized as a connective tissue. Connective tissue supports, surrounds, and binds the muscle fibres. They contain both elastic and non-elastic tissue.

Areolar Tissue

Lion stretching at Ouwehands 2010
Stretching lion

The areolar tissue is permeable and is extensively distributed throughout the body. This tissue acts as a general binder for all other tissues.[2]

Muscle Tissue

Muscle tissue is made of a stretchy material. It is arranged in bundles of parallel fibres.[3]

Stretch Receptors

Stretch receptors have two parts: Spindle cells and Golgi tendons. Spindle cells, located in the center of a muscle, send messages for the muscle to contract.[4] On the other hand, Golgi tendon receptors are located near the end of a muscle fiber and send messages for the muscle to relax. As these receptors are trained through continual use, stretching becomes easier. When reflexes that inhibit flexibility are released the splits then become easier to perform. The splits use the body's complete range of motion and provide a complete stretch.


Drew Bledsoe stretching
A stretching American football player

Flexibility is improved by stretching.[5] Stretching should only be started when muscles are warm and the body temperature is raised. To be effective while stretching, force applied to the body must be held just beyond a feeling of pain and needs to be held for at least ten seconds. Increasing the range of motion creates good posture and develops proficient performance in everyday activities increasing the length of life and overall health of the individual.[6]


Dynamic flexibility is classified as the ability to complete a full range of motion of a joint. It also controls movement as the speed increases while stretching parts of the body. This form of stretching prepares the body for physical exertion and sports performance. In the past it was the practice to undertake static stretching before exercise. Dynamic stretching increases range of movement, blood and oxygen flow to soft tissues prior to exertion. Increasingly coaches and sports trainers are aware of the role in dynamic stretching in improving performance and reducing the risk of injury.


Caroline Zhang Spiral 2008 Skate Canada
Figure skater Caroline Zhang at 2008 Skate Canada

Static-active stretching includes holding an extended position with just the strength of the muscles such as holding the leg in front, side or behind. Static-active flexibility requires a great deal of strength, making it the hardest to develop.


Ballistic stretching is separate from all other forms of stretching. It does not include stretching, but rather a bouncing motion. The actual performance of ballistic movements prevents lengthening of tissues. These movements should only be performed when the body is very warm; otherwise they can lead to injury.

Limits of Flexibility

Each individual is born with a particular range of motion for each joint in their body. In the book Finding Balance by Gigi Berardi, the author mentions three limiting factors: Occupational demands, movement demands and training oversights.[7]

Internal Factors of Flexibility

Urdhva padmasana
Male yoga practitioner in an inverted lotus position

Movement demands include strength, endurance and range of motion. Training oversights occurs when the body is overused.[8] Internally, the joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments can affect one's flexibility. As previously mentioned, each part of the body has its own limitations and combined, the range of motion can be affected. The mental attitude of the performer during the state of motion can also affect their range.

External Factors of Flexibility

Externally, anything from the weather outside to the age of the performer can affect flexibility. General tissues and collagen change with age influencing the individual. Young performers should be aware of over-stretching. Even basic things such as clothing and equipment can affect a performance. Dance surfaces and lack of proper shoes can also affect a performer's ability to perform at his/her best.[9]

Signs of Injury

Stretching for too long or too much can give way to an injury.[10] For most activities, the normal range of motion is more than adequate. Any sudden movements or going too fast can cause a muscle to tighten. This leads to extreme pain and the performer should let the muscle relax by resting.

Risk of Injury

Some people get injuries while doing yoga and aerobics so one needs to be careful while doing it. If a bone, muscle or any other part is stretched more than its capacity it may lead to dislocation, muscle pulls, etc. or something even more severe too.

See also


  1. ^ Blakey, WP. "Stretching without Pain." p. 9
  2. ^ Blakey, WP. "Stretching without Pain." p. 26
  3. ^ Blakey, WP. "Stretching without Pain." p. 30
  4. ^ Blakey, WP. "Stretching without Pain." p. 33
  5. ^ Ashley, Linda. "Essential Guide to Dance." p. 14
  6. ^ Barratt, Marcia. "Foundations For Movement." p. 27.
  7. ^ Berardi, Gigi. "Finding Balance." p. 35.
  8. ^ |Berardi, Gigi. "Finding Balance." p. 37.
  9. ^ Berardi, Gigi. "Finding Balance." p. 34.
  10. ^ Blakey, WP. "Stretching without Pain." p. 20


  • Arnheim, Daniel D. Dance Injuries: Their Prevention And Care. 3rd ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Book Company, 1991. Print.
  • Ashley, Linda. Essential Guide to Dance. 2nd ed. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2004. Print.
  • Barratt, Marcia, et al. Foundations For Movement. Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown Co., 1964. Print.
  • Berardi, Gigi. Finding Balance. 2nd ed. Routledge, NY: Routledge, 2005. Print.
  • Blakey, W P. Stretching Without Pain. Canada: Twin Eagles Educational & Healing Institute, 1994. Print.
  • Como W. Raoul Gelabert's anatomy for the dancer with exercises to improve technique and prevent injuries. New York: Danad, 1964; 51-57.
  • Dilmen, Nevit. Stretching. 2009. Own Work. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 4 Dec. 2010.
  • Franklin, Eric N. Conditioning for Dance. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2004. Print.
  • FvS. Split, gymnastics. 2005. Own Work. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 4 Dec. 2010.
  • Liedarback, "General considerations," p. 59.
  • McCharles, Rick. Gymnast jumping on beam. 2008. https://www.flickr.com/photos/71035721@N00/2972933329. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 4 Dec. 2010.
  • Pare, Caroline. Caroline Zhang in 2008 Skate Canada International. 2008. http://everythingskating.com/. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 4 Dec. 2010.
  • Reinking, Ann, and Linda Szmyd. The Dancer's Workout. London: Bantam Books, 1984. Print.
  • Ryan, Allan J., and Robert E. Stephens, eds. The Healthy Dancer: Dance Medicine for Dancers. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Book Company, 1987. Print.
  • Stuart Wright, Dancer's Guide to Injuries of the Lower Extremity (New York: Cornwall Books, 1985), p. 14.
  • Swischuk, Leornard E. "Doing the Splits: Heard A Pop--Cannot Walk." Pediatric Emergency Care 23.11 (2007): 842-3. Web. 8 Sep. 2010. <http://ovidsp.tx.ovid.com>.

External links

Flexibility (disambiguation)

Flexibility may refer to:

Flexibility, the ability of a material to deform elastically and return to its original shape when the applied stress is removed

Flexibility (anatomy), the distance of motion of a joint, which may be increased by stretching

Flexibility (engineering), in the field of engineering systems design, designs that can adapt when external changes occur

Flexibility (personality), the range of different appropriate behavioural responses a person can make in situations that they face.

Cognitive flexibility, the ability to switch between thinking about two different concepts, and to think about multiple concepts simultaneously

Labour market flexibility

"Flexibility", a song by Miss Kittin & The Hacker first published as the seventh song of their 2001 album First Album

Flexibility (mathematics) is a property of some non-associative algebras.

Joint stiffness

Joint stiffness may be either the symptom of pain on moving a joint, the symptom of loss of range of motion or the physical sign of reduced range of motion.

Pain on movement is commonly caused by osteoarthritis, often in quite minor degrees, and other forms of arthritis. It may also be caused by injury or overuse and rarely by more complex causes of pain such as infection or neoplasm. The range of motion may be normal or limited by pain. "Morning stiffness" pain which eases up after the joint has been used, is characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis.

Loss of motion (symptom): the patient notices that the joint (or many joints) do not move as far as they used to or need to. Loss of motion is a feature of more advanced stages of arthritis including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.

Loss of range of motion (sign): the examining medical professional notes that the range of motion of the joint is less than normal. Routine examination by an orthopaedic surgeon or rheumatologist will often pay particular attention to this. The range of motion may be measured and compared to the other side and to normal ranges. This sign is associated with the same causes as the symptom. In extreme cases when the joint does not move at all it is said to be ankylosed.

Paddle board yoga

Paddle Board Yoga is the art performing of yoga while stand up paddle surfing (SUP) usually while the board is in calm water, such as a lake. The sport combines hatha yoga and vinyasa yoga asanas, or poses, with surfing. Practitioners may practice on the beach sand or in a swimming pool to gain the strength and flexibility (anatomy) required to maintain the balance and postures on fluid water such as the ocean or a lake. Practitioners can begin by moving through a sequence of yoga postures, or asana, while standing on a normal length surfboard or a specially designed stand up paddle board.

This emerging sport was also featured in the Falcon Guide published book The Art of Stand Up Paddle.Yoga has its roots in India most likely developing around the sixth and fifth centuries BCE. Paddle boarding is said to have originated in Hawaii and just in the past century has yoga become popular in America.

In the short time it has been in existence, sup yoga has now grown to become an international community being taught at the Orange Bowl Paddle Championships and Wanderlust Festival.There has been media coverage in publications such as Yoga Journal and Today.com.

Split jump (exercise)

A split jump (also known as lunge jump, jumping lunge, plyometric lunge or simply plyo lunge. Not to be confused with the split jump used by dancers, gymnasts and figure skaters) is a form of exercise which focuses on the upper leg muscles, especially the quadriceps:

assume an upright squatting position with one foot forward and the other back

with a jumping motion, simultaneously move the rear foot forward and the front foot back, ending as position 1 with the feet reversed

repeatThe exercise is often used in soccer training.

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