Range Of Motion and Flexibility
Clients are constantly asking if their muscles are “too tight”, or if that strand of rebar like muscle in their back feels healthy or not, hmmmm? I like to focus on something that I think is more important and is easier to measure (especially over time) and that is your overall flexibility or the range of motion of your joints and corresponding body parts.

But, before I get in to my thoughts on this I want to tell you that I am writing this in as simple terms as possible, so please overlook the colloquialisms and generalized references. I also want to point out that this is a way to measure where you are at in terms of specific, general and relative flexibility. I am not making medical statements or judgments as to what is and is not “normal” or healthy ranges of motion. I am also not giving advice on how to achieve greater flexibility. Nothing should ever be done if it hurts and in my opinion all flexibility tests should be done after you have warmed up the muscles and tissue in the area your are testing but please consult an appropriate health care provider for any concerns or questions you have in regards to the subjects talked about in this article. Whew, I think I need a massage after all of that…

In my experience, the people who feel the healthiest as they age are the ones that can still participate in, and enjoy, the physical activities that they like the most. Strength and cardiovascular endurance are obvious components of any physical activity, but the often neglected component (until it is painfully obvious) is your overall flexibility which is a combination of both muscle and connective tissue elasticity. Something that we seem to lose just a little bit more of each year. I refer to this as your relative range of motion. How you are moving in comparison to how you were able to move last year or five years ago.

There is a generally accepted “normal” range of motion for all of your joints and major body parts (trunk) and people are often aware when they have severe ROM issues. What is not as apparent to us is our relative range of motion and how that changes slowly, but significantly over time.

I recommend that you do this basic assessment each year and record your results on the attached sheet so you can see how you are doing from year to year. It will also give you a good baseline in case you are injured or feel like you have other limiting issues.

Warm Up
Make sure that your muscles are warmed up before you do any stretches and do your tests in as similar of a physical condition each time. This will protect you from injury and give you the most consistent results.

Measuring and Recording
This may be one of the biggest twists in the assessment because I am not advocating that you compare yourself against the masses, or even reference the generally accepted standards (and accordingly, the deficiencies) for each test. I just want you to get a benchmark of where you are at now in these areas and then compare how you do in reference to these benchmarks at least once a year.

Here are some basic flexibility tests that I have modified a bit so that you can perform them at home, by yourself. Of course, you can do these anyway you want. You can even ask your massage or physical therapist to help you with them. But however you decide to do them, make sure that you are consistent each time so that the results really do compare your relative flexibility over time.

The Sit and Reach Flexibility Test

This is one of the oldest and most recognized flexibility tests, it is best for measuring the flexibility of the hamstrings, hip, and lower back (muscles and connective tissue). The traditional Sit and Reach Test is done with something called a Sit and Reach Box but can easily be done at home with no special equipment whatsoever. Using the stairs and a ruler or yard stick for example.

The Procedure
Tape your ruler to your stairs or weight it down with something so it won’t move.

Remove your shoes and sit at a 90 degree angle to your stairs (or a box, or block, etc.) with your heels touching the floor and the base of the first stair.

Place one hand on top of the other, then reach slowly forward. At the point of your greatest reach, hold for a couple of seconds, and measure how far you have reached. Bouncing and lunging does not count here.

Measuring and Recording
If your finger goes beyond your toes/the edge of the stair record the distance as a positive number, if they just touch your toes/the edge of the stair then you would record it as a 0, and if they fall short of your toes/the edge of the stair then record the distance as a negative number.

Trunk Rotation Test

This test measures your combined trunk and shoulder flexibility. The trunk can be thought of as all of your core stomach and low back muscles.

Put a piece of tape on a wall or tape this measuring graph on the wall and then put your yardstick on the floor in line with the tape or the 0” mark of the measuring graph (just to make sure that you stay centered).

Now stand with your back in line with the tape or with the yardstick on the floor, about an arm’s length away from the wall. For me, that means that my heels are at the 28” mark on the yardstick. Some people like to have their feet shoulder width apart, I like to keep my feet together (but it is harder to balance). Just make sure that you note which option you choose and stay consistent throughout the years.

Now lift your arms up and out to your sides until they are parallel with the floor, palms down, and then rotate to the right as far as you can and note how far in front of or behind the line your middle finger touches the wall. Then repeat this by rotating to your left.

Measuring and Recording
If your finger does not reach the tape on the wall, measure how far it is from the line as a negative number. If it reaches the tape and that is it, record it as a 0. If your finger touches the wall past the mark record the distance as a positive number.

Side Bend Test

This test measures lateral trunk flexion or spinal curve mobility.

Stand tall next to a wall close enough so that your butt and shoulders are lightly touching the wall. Place the yardstick on the outside of the leg toward the side you are going to bend with the zero towards the floor and the numbers showing.

Keep both arms down at the sides, with no space between your arms and sides. Extend your fingers on both hands. While maintaining contact between the upper back and the wall, bend to the side and slide your hand down your leg and the yard stick. When you have gone as far as you can without straining, grab the yard stick between your thumb and the palm of your hand.

Now repeat on the other side.

Measuring and Recording
The measurement is recorded as a positive number in inches from the floor.

Shoulder Flexibility Test

This is typically considered a range of motion test of the shoulder joint and surrounding tissues.

Procedure if your hands touch or almost touch.
Test each shoulder independently by standing with the arm of the shoulder you are testing straight up in the air, then bend your elbow so the palm of your hand comes to rest on the back of your head or in between your shoulder blades.

Then reach behind your back with your other arm, keeping the palm facing out. Try to keep your middle finger lined up with your spine.

Now, try to touch the fingers of both hands together by sliding the upper hand down and the lower hand up. If your fingers can actually cross over each other, then just slide them as far past each other as they will go. Don’t grab the other hand and pull.

Measuring and Recording
If the hands do not touch, measure the distance between the two middle fingers as a negative number.
If the hands just touch, that is 0.
If the fingers slide past each other, measure how far past each other they go as a positive number.

Procedure if your hands do not get close to each other or you do not have anyone to help you measure. You will need a yardstick or ruler.

Test each shoulder independently by standing with the arm of the shoulder you are testing straight up in the air, then bend your elbow so the palm of your hand comes to rest on the back of your head or in between your shoulder blades.

Grab the yardstick and place your thumb so it is on the 10” mark. Then bend your elbow so the back of your thumb is towards your back yardstick lines up with your spine.

Then reach behind your back with your other arm, keeping the palm facing out.

Now, try to reach as far up the yardstick with your lower hand as possible and grab it with your thumb and index finger primarily. Focus on reaching with the thumb.

Then let go with your upper hand, but keep your lower hand in the same position on the yard stick as you bring it around front and notice where your thumb is on the yard stick.

Measuring and Recording
Record the distance from where the thumb of the lower hand was at the end of the test to the 10” line on the yard stick as a negative number.

Remember that being consistent and recording your results are the only way that you are going to be able to really tell how you are doing over time.

Be good to yourselves,

Joe Lavin, LMP, CPT