Prevention of Low-Back Pain and Injuries
The problem is often compounded by arthritis (see the box “Does Physical Activity Increase or Decrease the Risk of Bone and Joint Disease?”). Good joint flexibility may help prevent arthritis, and stretching may lessen pain in people who have the condition. Another benefit of good joint flexibility for older adults is that it increases balance and stability.
Poor spinal stability puts pressure on the nerves leading out from the spinal column and can lead to low-back pain. Strength and flexibility in the back, pelvis, and thighs may help prevent this type of back pain but may or may not improve back health or reduce the risk of injury. Good hip and knee flexibility protects the spine from excessive motion during the tasks of daily living.
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Although scientific evidence is limited, people with either high or low flexibility seem to have an increased risk of injury. Extreme flexibility reduces joint stability, and poor flexibility limits a joint’s range of motion. Persons of average fitness should try to attain normal flexibility in joints throughout the body, meaning each joint can move through its normal range of motion with no difficulty. Stretching programs are particularly important for older adults, people engaged in high-power sports that require rapid changes in direction (such as football and tennis), workers involved in brief bouts of intense exertion (such as police officers and firefighters), and people who sit for prolonged periods (such as office workers and students).
However, as we have seen, stretching before a high-intensity activity (such as sprinting or basketball) may increase the risk of injury by interfering with neuromuscular control and reducing muscles’ natural ability to stretch and contract. When injuries occur, flexibility exercises can reduce symptoms and help restore normal range of motion in affected joints.