Here you will discover why range of motion exercises are so important to fight muscle and joint pain. On top, you will get some links to exercises.
In the first place, what is range of motion/ROM? The range of motion is the extent you can move a given joint.
When the range of motion of a joint is impaired, there will be a non-physiological shift in force distribution and use of muscles.
As you can imagine, the goal of range of motion exercises is to restore the physiological ROM of the given joint. Those exercises could also be termed joint mobility exercises.
Now, what you do with those exercises is the following. You actively move a given joint through its current full range of motion. Actively means that you use your muscles to do so, without swinging. By doing this, certain muscles will get activated/contracted while others get stretched.
The main benefits of range of motion exercises are
How does that work!? To put it in a nutshell: You train your nervous system and that results in a better interplay between your muscles. This is a pretty abstract statement. I have a little task for you that will serve as an example of how this works. It is always best to feel and experience. The sensation will be worthier than thousand words.
Stand up and raise both of your arms, so that your fingertips are pointing towards the ceiling in your room. Now, move both arms backwards as far as it is comfortable for you, but do not pull hard.
Are you able to bring both arms backwards to the same degree or is there any difference?
Now do the following movement with one of your arms. The best is to choose the arm that you could not pull backwards as good as the other one or where you felt more tension. If both were equal, it does not matter which one you choose.
Slowly rotate your shoulder by raising your arm in front of you, rotating it outwards and lowering it behind you. It is important to really extend the whole arm and bring it as close to your ear as possible. But stay in your pain-free zone.
You might feel quite some muscle tension in your chest while bringing the arm behind you and rotating it outwards – because it is the opposite movement that your chest muscles perform –.
While doing the movement, breathe calmly into your belly and repeat 10 to 15 times very slowly. Concentrate on that tight feeling in your chest when you bring the arm backwards. When you are done, let both arms hang loose and try to feel how your worked shoulder feels. Just give the feeling some attributes.
Now, do the arm raising test again. What changed? If you have done it correctly, the arm/shoulder you worked should be more relaxed and you should be able pull it noticeably further backwards.
If that is not the case, it is ok, too. You might just have to do it more often and learn how to feel your muscles during the movement.
So, why did this range of motion exercise lower muscle tension and improved your shoulder flexibility? This is because your nervous system realized that by adjusting the muscle tension in your chest, the movement will be easier and smoother to execute. Especially movements at the limit of the range of motion of a given joint trigger those changes because the antagonistic muscles – the ones that usually do the opposite movement – have to let go and your nervous system eliminates excessive tension.
With the little experiment you just did, you experienced two of the benefits mentioned above, namely improvement in active flexibility and normalization of muscle tension. The third benefit, which is betterment in coordination and movement patterns, is/will be a result of the former two. Although it is difficult to measure and takes some time, you will eventually feel when movements become smoother and more effortless.
This is also the reason why those exercises are so important in the treatment of muscle and joint pain. They will create better movement patterns which in turn put less stress on your joints – through normalization of muscle tension and restoration of the physiological range of motion –.
Last but not least I want to share one crucial detail with you, which is of high importance for the success of range of motion exercises. That detail is: Awareness. Be aware of what you do. Focus on how movements feel – e.g. smooth, choppy, loose, tense, … –. To become aware of those things, it is important to go very slow and to work at your pain-free limit.