Joint flexibility refers to how well you can move your joints through their normal range of motion. The more flexible joints are, the more easily they usually move. In general, you can increase joint flexibility by doing a variety of stretching exercises. Some people may also find joint supplements helpful in increasing flexibility.
There are a variety of exercises that can be used to help increase flexibility. Before any of these stretches are performed, a warm-up period is generally recommended to help reduce injury. Warm-up exercises can include gently moving the joints in circles or doing a light activity, such as walking. Once the body has had a few minutes to warm up and the muscles and tendons feel limber, it is typically OK to begin stretching exercises.
To improve joint flexibility, range-of-motion stretches are often recommended. Range of motion essentially refers to how far you can move your joint, so range-of-motion exercises generally involve moving your joints in all the directions they normally move. With each stretch, the muscles and tendons that support the joint lengthen, which usually allows the joint to move a little further. This lengthening can often be felt as a slight tightness or burning in the muscles.
The exact stretches typically depend on the joint being worked. For example, a range of motion exercise for the knee might involve bending the knee back up toward the back of the thigh as far as possible and holding it there, then extending it forward to be in line with the thigh. A stretch for the shoulder might involve holding the arm out at shoulder height and rotating the shoulder up, then toward the back, then down, and then toward the front to complete a full circle.
Most range of motion stretches should be held for about 30 seconds. You should try to keep the muscles and the joint still, without bouncing, to help prevent injury. Many experts recommend stretching to the point where you can feel a slight tightness in the muscles, but never to the point where it actually hurts. You will probably be able to stretch a little further each time as you begin to increase joint flexibility.
In addition to stretching, some people may use supplements to help improve joint flexibility. Glucosamine and chondroitin are some of the most commonly used joint supplements. Some studies have shown that taking these supplements may help relieve joint pain and stiffness associated with certain conditions, such as osteoarthritis. As a joint becomes less painful and stiff, flexibility may improve.
Whether looking to improve joint flexibility through stretching or the use of supplements, it generally is recommended that you first check with your health care provider. In some cases, joint stiffness can be a sign of a more serious underlying problem that a health care provider should treat. Talking to your health care provider can also be helpful in determining the best exercises or supplements for your situation.