The Importance of Flexibility: How To Evaluate and Measure It

Flexibility, often overlooked, plays an essential role in overall health, fitness, and quality of life. It is a key component in the prevention of musculoskeletal problems and enhances the effectiveness of physical activities. Evaluating flexibility can help identify joint mobility limitations or muscle stiffness, establish baseline values, and monitor progress in rehabilitation or training programs.

How Do We Measure Flexibility?

Measuring flexibility is not a straightforward process. There isn't a single test that can provide a comprehensive score for overall flexibility. Each test is designed to assess a specific movement or joint, and general flexibility is gauged using a combination of these tests.

Flexibility measurement methods can be broadly categorized into two types: direct and indirect.

Direct Method

The direct method measures the angular displacement between adjacent body segments or from an external reference point. This method is often used to assess the range of motion in joints.

Indirect Method

The indirect method involves linear measurements of the distance between body segments or between an anatomical landmark and another point or object. This method is generally used to evaluate the reachability and stretchability of different body parts.

A comprehensive flexibility assessment using these methods can be time-consuming. Still, it is necessary for an accurate evaluation of an individual's flexibility level.

Tools for Measuring Flexibility

Several tools are used to measure flexibility, including the universal goniometer of varying lengths, clinical goniometer or inclinometer, tape measure, and more advanced tools like radiography or cinematography. However, the latter are often expensive and invasive, making them less commonly used.

An effective flexibility measurement protocol typically involves a proper warm-up followed by three measurements per joint. The highest angle achieved is then considered for evaluation.

Commonly Used Flexibility Tests

Sit-and-Reach Test

This is the most widely recognized flexibility test, measuring the flexibility of the lower back and hamstring muscles.

The individual sits on the floor with legs extended straight ahead, feet flat against a box or a similar device. Without bending the knees, the individual leans forward and reaches along the measuring line as far as possible, holding the position for a brief moment.

The distance reached by the hands on the measuring line is recorded, with positive scores for reaching beyond the toes and negative for distances behind the feet.

Shoulder Flexibility Test

This test assesses the flexibility of the shoulder joint.

From a standing or sitting position, one hand reaches over the shoulder and down the back while the other hand reaches up from behind and attempts to touch or interlock fingers with the first hand.

The test is qualitative, assessing whether the fingers can touch or interlock. The degree of ease or difficulty in achieving this can also be noted.

Trunk Lift Test

This test measures the flexibility and strength of the lower back and hamstring muscles.

Lying face down on the floor, the individual slowly lifts the upper body off the ground using the lower back muscles, keeping the hips on the floor.

The height the chest lifts off the ground is measured, with higher lifts indicating better flexibility and lower back strength.

Thomas Test

Used to evaluate the flexibility of the hip flexors.

The individual lies on their back on a table or bench, bringing one knee to the chest to flatten the lower back against the surface, while allowing the other leg to hang freely off the edge.

The test looks at the position of the hanging leg; if the thigh cannot remain horizontal or the knee cannot bend to 90 degrees without the lower back lifting, it indicates tight hip flexors.

Ankle Flexibility Test

This test measures the flexibility of the ankle joint, particularly the calf muscles and the Achilles tendon.

The individual stands facing a wall with the toe of one foot touching the wall while keeping the heel on the ground. The other foot is placed behind for stability. The individual then leans forward without lifting the heel.

The distance of the toe from the wall is increased until the heel just lifts off the ground, and this distance is measured. Greater distances indicate better ankle flexibility.

In conclusion, understanding and measuring flexibility is crucial for maintaining good health and physical fitness. It can help identify potential issues, guide training programs, and monitor progress. Despite the complexity and time required for a comprehensive evaluation, the benefits of regular flexibility assessment are undeniable.

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The Wellyme Team

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