Flexibility and mobility can hamper or help the way we move, and many people are unsure of the difference between the two. Flexibility is the ability to create length to tissues. For example, an elastic band is able to lengthen easily. Yoga, static stretches, and dynamic exercise can all improve our flexibility. When we lack good flexibility, our muscles don’t allow us to have good range, potentially making our movements stiff and compromised. On the other hand, mobility refers to the ability of tissues to move freely near one another. Using tools like foam rollers and yoga tune up balls can help improve mobility by breaking down adhesions that can develop in the tissue, which compromises function, blood flow and length. Think of that same elastic band, but this time with knots in it. Unfortunately, most people lack both flexibility and mobility. This occurs over time via tissue micro tearing and excessive tension, as well as poor tissue repair, recovery, and nutrition. How can we remedy this issue? Most people have some knowledge of stretching and yoga, so the following will focus on mobility.
Improving mobility begins with direct contact to the adhered tissues via a mobility tool or manual therapist. Mobility tools such as foam rollers, massage sticks, yoga tune up balls, and lacrosse balls are effective ways to self-treat mobility deficiencies. Even as little as 5 minutes a day with some of these tools can make a huge difference! So what are some mobility tools and how do they compare? We’ve listed our favourites in order of efficacy.
- Yoga Tune Up Balls: Tune up balls were developed as a modification to the lacrosse ball for tissue mobility. They have a pliable and grippy surface over a dense core. This tool can access deeper tissue layers because of its small surface area. Unlike a lacrosse ball’s hard surface, the Yoga Tune Up can reduce pressure on bony prominences making it easy to manoeuvre into precise areas. Tune up balls can be used sitting, laying, or standing, and are easy to use in any location. Best Feature: best at getting at those specific spots Downside: Requires more manoeuvrability.
- Foam rollers: Foam rollers have a large surface area that can be rolled over tissue by positioning the body on the roll in various positions. The foam roller addresses mostly superficial tissues layers and fascia, and stimulates blood flow. The foam roller is best used on larger muscle groups. Ridges help to with more tissue movement so look for that feature if using a foam roller. Best Feature: Good for working large areas Downside: Difficult to get ‘that spot’ like a ball.
- Massage sticks: Massage sticks work similar to a foam roller, but slightly more precise and easier to use. It also addresses the superficial layers of adhesion, but not as deep due to less force application. This tool does not require you to contort yourself on the ground like the foam roller, rather your hands and arms provide the leverage. It is convenient to use on the go or at the office. Best Feature: Ease of use Downside: not as effective as other tools.
Whether or not you use one of these mobility tools or just your hands, try to find a couple of minutes everyday to work on trouble spots. Your body will definitely thank you!