One of the most frequent topics discussed at The Boston Bodyworker is “tightness”. Patient ask us all the time; “Does my (hip, neck, shoulder) ‘feel’ tight?” What YOU “feel” relates to an actual sensory (S) experience. What WE “feel” is more of a palpable (P) experience. Both patient and practitioner throw around the word “feel”, yet many times we are “feeling” in two VERY different ways. Given that each of us are individually constructed and possess our own unique neurosignature when it comes to what we ‘feel’ (S), your therapist can help you to determine what a normal end range should be and what you may experience as a feeling (P) when you hit it. Having healthy articular (joint) function will alleviate a wide range of issues we commonly see. There are a couple of key terms we use when exploring end ranges in joints. The term we commonly use is ‘end-feel’. An ‘end-feel’ can be either soft or hard. It is not always easy to differentiate between the two without a lot of experience of ‘feeling’ (P) for both of them. Ultimately, a ‘soft’ end-feel will be when the connective tissue is stretched to a point where it feels (P) like the last bit of elasticity being pulled on a bungee cord. A hard or ‘bony’ end-feel is when we feel (P) the connective tissue stretching evenly and then a sudden ‘hard’ stop occurs. This does not necessarily mean that a patient will be ‘feeling’ (S) the same thing. Typically, a patient determines what they ‘feel’ (S) based upon a sensory experience. Often, the two ‘feelings’ are not synchronous. Our body will usually send up warning signals prior to us being capable of achieving what our real end-range could be. Understanding what you feel (S) in these situations can greatly enhance the means in which you re-train individual movements.
Before starting to explore the difference between a soft and hard end-feel. Take some time to wake up your nervous system through some dynamic movements. This will fire up your synapses, excite your muscle spindles and prepare you to hone in on exactly what you are focusing on. Once you are properly warmed up and have explored your current ranges, you can start to ease into finding where you may need improvements. It’s important to keep in mind that you should not compare your range of motion (ROM) to someone else. Although we are similar in many ways, we are all very different in what can be achieved. You are trying to improve your joint mobility for your own body, not your partners or something you saw on YouTube. The last and most important tip I can offer when exploring your articular mobility is B-R-E-A-T-H-E. The best way to find your range is to breathe evenly and deeply as you challenge your ROM. Oxygenating the system is a great way to communicate with the brain that all is safe. Holding your breath signals the brain and your nervous system to override the objective and create a neurological barrier aimed at preventing an injury that may not be at risk.
Here are a few hip stretches that you can begin to play with as you learn how to listen to what you are feeling when trying to improve ROM in a joint.