Stretching: Good Or Bad?

Posted on in Back Pain, Fitness by Dr. Graham Norton


How annoying does it feel when your body is stiff, rigid, and flat out won’t move the way you want it to? Maybe you even try stretching every single day, but your range of motion hasn’t budged. You think…If I had better flexibility I would be able to get to the gym easier, I could play with my kids or grandkids more, I wouldn’t get this low back pain!

I know I have certainly been there… Being an athlete growing up I was subjected to the same well meaning (but not very helpful) advice: Do your stretching! You need to stretch more! Warm up with your stretches so you don’t get hurt!

My goal today is to update your basic understanding of movement so that you can shed the old advice and give you a beginners routine to joint mobility so you can begin the process of really moving better.

Almost everyone thinks that mobility and flexibility are the same thing. This is most likely why everyone tries to stretch all the time if they feel like they are stiff/tight. The truth is, mobility and flexibility are very different things. If you didn’t know this, it could be hurting your results!


Flexibility can be defined as the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to lengthen passively through a range of motion.  Think of sticking your heel up on a chair to get a stretch in the hamstring.


Mobility can be defined as the ability to move a joint actively through a range of motion. Think of lowering into a deep squat position under control.

So what’s the big deal? Research tells us that stretching rarely, if ever, creates any lasting change to your muscle length. If you have stretched for say 10 minutes, you may have some temporary lengthening in your muscles, but it’s going to be short lived and you will be right back where you started shortly after. This might seem familiar to you if you stretch – hasn’t gotten much better has it? In fact, it’s even debated that stretching before workouts may increase your risk of injury rather than decrease it! Mama mia…

Mobility on the other hand being an active process (you actually doing something), will not only lengthen the soft tissues but also engage the nervous system. This is really the missing link.

Your nervous system is intricately linked to everything that happens in your body and human movement is no exception.The more you actively engage a range of motion under control (and with quality) the more the nervous system learns that this range of motion is useful and safe. The result is more mobility that actually lasts. (More on this in an upcoming blog – “why your tight muscles aren’t tight”).

The action steps

So here are the takeaways and an easy action step for you to take to improve your mobility:

1. Flexibility does not equal mobility.

2. In order to create lasting change in your movement you need to change the nervous system.

3. Consistent, quality mobility work changes the nervous system.

4. Do the joint to joint motion routine below daily as a starter program.

Hope that helps! Make it a great day!

Hi! I'm Dr. Graham and I am passionate about delivering the most comprehensive and results driven spine care available. I love working with people who want to make a real and lasting difference in their health. I love travelling locally, outdoor activities like road biking and skate skiing, good coffee, and my family (Dr. Marie, and our two wonderful daughters Zoey & Eloise).