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Mobility vs. Stability

Updated: Mar 21

Most people think these 2 things are independent of each other; if you are not flexible, you need to stretch, if you are weak you need to strengthen.  It is not that simple.  Movement is extremely complex and requires a large number of subconscious patterns and “muscle memory.”  A similar symptom or feeling can be caused by many different dysfunctions.  The most common one we hear is, “I have tight hamstrings but no matter how much I stretch it, it never changes.” This is likely because the issue is not a lack of hamstring length but something else affecting the back of the thigh.

Let’s start with mobility. 

  • Described simply, it is having the ability to move through a range of motion. If you are “tight” it does not always mean it is because of a muscle. It could be a number of other things as well:

  • decreased joint motion

  • fascial tissue restrictions

  • poor movement of the nervous system. 

  • Or, it could obviously just be a tight muscle. 

  • All of these things respond to different treatment approaches to improve mobility. So the “tight hamstrings” could be poor sciatic nerve mobility, fascial tightness, or poor hip or knee joint motion.

Stability is not the same as strength. 

  • It is much more than how big are your muscles. Movement is a VERY complex system of several muscles and joints working together to do something as simple as bend down. 

  • The brain sends a signal to the nerves, and the nerves carry the signal.

  • Then, the muscle responds accordingly to the signal. 

  • You have to control the other end of the muscle so the movement happens at the right place.  For example, moving the knee not the hip. 

  • Your muscles may be able to keep you from falling over and can lift you back up, but they can’t control you going down, so they just don’t let you.

  • It is a protective mechanism. Your hamstrings hold on for dear life to protect your back that doesn’t move, or your hip that doesn’t flex, or poor foot control so you don’t topple over.

The question becomes, how do you know what to do?  The answer is our favorite, it depends.  It depends on what is limiting you. Is it mobility; what type of restriction? Is it stability; what can’t you control or what is not doing its job?  Or even better, is it actually a little combination of both… hint hint hint… It's typically not 1 solitary problem, but rather a series of compensations that allow you to function to some degree. If what you have tried is not working or causing pain, you may be addressing the wrong thing and it may be time to seek some help.

Greg Hollenbeck PT, DPT, OCS, SFMA, CF-L1, Certified Sportsmetrics, Certified Functional Dry Needling L2, PN1-NC

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