5-Step Mobility Routine To Avoid Injuries After 40

As people age, the joints and muscles become tighter and less flexible, making them more likely to ache and be prone to injury.

Some things get better with age: Cheddar cheese, cast iron skillets, and wine. One thing not on the list, though, is our joint health. 

As we age, joint mobility tends to wane—thanks to nine-to-five desk jobs, lounging on the couch, and poor posture when we use our phones and computers. Joint mobility is our ability to access all the ranges of motion within our joints, Grayson Wickham, PT, DPT, CSCS, physical therapist and founder of Movement Vault, told Health.

As the joints and muscles become tighter and less flexible, they are more likely to ache and be prone to injury. Here are some exercises that may help reduce joint pain and avoid injuries.

Effects of Limited Joint Mobility

What are the consequences of limited joint mobility? Pain, compensating with the wrong muscles and joints to move how you're trying to move, and even injury.

"Around the age of 40, the injury rate starts to increase because, at that point, we've been putting our bodies in—and operating in—sub-optimal positions for four decades," noted Wickham. "That results in tight muscles and joints and means we have less ability to move freely, which really takes a toll on the body."

And without optimal mobility, it's harder to do all sorts of things. 

"Mobility is what allows us to perform our daily need-to-do tasks like [wash] the dishes, toss a Frisbee to the dog, exercise without pain, and even get out of bed," explained Wickham.

So, working on your mobility in your major joints, like your hips, ankles, shoulders, and wrists, is essential to your quality of life as you age.

 "Adding mobility stretches and exercises into your routine is about getting your full range of motion back in your joints," added Wickham.

How To Bring Mobility Back

It's always possible to develop a mobility practice to help prevent injury and pain later in life. And it doesn't require a massive shift in your routine.

"A few minutes a day is all it takes to see massive improvements over time," said Wickham.

With that in mind, Wickham put together a five-move mobility routine to improve movement and function in your key joints. The following exercises can help you comfortably perform daily activities and exercise for decades. 

Try to incorporate the following movements into your routine as often as possible, aiming for five or more times per week.

Upper Spine Stretch: T-Spine Joint Mobilizations

Target area: Upper spine

At first glance, the exercise might look like foam rolling. But T-spine joint mobilization aims to increase mobility in your upper spine, all with a massage-like feel. 

Back pain and arthritis cost people more than $200 billion a year in the United States, according to one study published in 2014 in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation study. So, this move could save you money and misery.

Here's how to properly perform the exercise:

  • Grab your handy foam roller and place it behind you so your upper back rests on it.
  • Keep your hands behind your head, as if you were going to do a crunch, or straighten your arms overhead.
  • When you're ready to begin, engage your core.
  • The goal is to create movement at each vertebra in your thoracic spine, which runs from the base of your neck to your abdomen. To do that, bend backward on the foam roller as far as possible while maintaining engagement in your abs.
  • Once you've extended as far as possible, squeeze the muscles touching the foam roller by pressing your shoulder blades together.
  • Hold for five seconds, then return to the start position.
  • Repeat for three reps of five seconds each.
  • Next, move up on the foam roller about an inch toward your neck and repeat the above sequence.
  • Repeat throughout your entire upper back.

Back and Torso Stretch: Spine Circles

Target areas: Back and torso

Back pain is a common and costly complaint among people as they age. 

"Back pain is something 80% of people will experience at some point in their lives," noted Wickham. "But spine circles help you activate and engage all of the muscles that surround your back and torso, which can help you move more freely from side to side."

Here's how to properly perform the exercise:

  • Start on your hands and knees.
  • Tuck your tailbone and push your spine toward the ceiling, making your back like a black cat. As you do that, lengthen your neck so that your ears come down by your biceps.
  • From there, you're going to start making circles within this pose. Start by squeezing all of the muscles in your core.
  • Bend over to the left side by squeezing all the muscles on your left side, making your body look like a half-moon.
  • Hold that for two seconds.
  • Return to your starting black cat position.
  • Move to the right. Activate the muscles on your right side to bend to the right.
  • Hold that for two seconds.
  • Move back to the starting position.
  • That's one full spine circle. Repeat for five reps.

Hips Stretch: End-Range Isometrics

Target area: Hips

"When you have limited mobility in your hips, your body will compensate by asking your knees and ankles to move in unsafe ways that can lead to injury over time," said Wickham. "We are weakest and most injury-prone in our hips' end-range of motions, but activating the muscles and joints through this stretch helps increase flexibility and strengthen the joint." 

This exercise aims to stretch out your hip flexor and then contract the muscles around the hip, which helps increase hip stability.

Here's how to properly perform the exercise:

  • Begin in a half-kneeling position with your right knee up.
  • Engage your abs, then intensify the lunge forward, so you feel the stretch in the front of your left hip.
  • Once you feel the stretch, contract those left hip muscles. To do that, think about dragging your left knee on the mat to get them to activate.
  • Hold for 10 seconds.
  • Next, relax your hip flexor muscles but stay in the stretch.
  • Rest in that position for a few seconds.
  • Squeeze your glutes for 10 seconds.
  • That's one rep.
  • Switch sides.
  • Repeat three times on each leg.

Ankles Stretch: Plantar Flexion Lift-Off

Target area: Ankles

"When you don't have mobility in the ankle, you'll either not be able to perform certain movements—like squats, lunges, and even walking—or you won't be able to perform those movements well," said Wickham. 

The plantar flexion lift-off stretch can help increase the mobility of your ankle, specifically at the front of the joint.

Here's how to properly perform the exercise:

  • Start on your hands and knees, with the tops of your feet in contact with the mat.
  • While keeping your core engaged, press the tops of your feet into the mat as you extend your knees as far as possible.
  • Squeeze your quads at the top of the movement.
  • Hold for three seconds.
  • Slowly lower back down to the mat.
  • You should feel the front of your ankles opening up as you move.
  • Perform 10 slow, controlled reps on each side.

Shoulder and Chest Stretch: End-Range Isometrics

Target areas: Shoulder and chest

Wickham said the end-range isometrics stretch would help open up the shoulder and chest muscles. As many as 67% of people experience shoulder pain at some point. However, Wickham added that improving shoulder mobility may help reduce that risk.

Here's how to properly perform the exercise:

  • Start by lying face down on a mat.
  • Bring your left arm to the side at a 90-degree angle from your body with your palm facing down.
  • Place your right hand on the ground, pushing it into the ground and lifting the right side of your body, increasing the stretch in the front of the left shoulder and pectoral areas.
  • Activate the muscles in the front of your left shoulder by thinking about pushing your left arm and hand into the ground.
  • Hold here for 10 seconds.
  • Relax the front of your left shoulder and contract the muscles in the opposite direction. To do that, imagine lifting your left hand and arm off the ground. It likely will not go anywhere, but as long as you activate the muscles on the backside of the shoulder, you are doing the movement correctly.
  • Return to start. That's one rep.
  • Perform the above sequence three times per shoulder.

A Quick Review

These five exercises can help you improve joint mobility preventatively if your joints are already tight.

As we age, our joints and muscles naturally tend to tighten up, losing their range of mobility and often leading to pain and injury. It’s essential, therefore, to incorporate exercises and movements in daily life that access all ranges of motion within our joints. 

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3 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Low back pain fact sheet.

  3. Hodgetts CJ, Leboeuf-Yde C, Beynon A, Walker BF. Shoulder pain prevalence by age and within occupational groups: a systematic review [published correction appears in Arch Physiother. 2022 Jan 10;12(1):3]. Arch Physiother. 2021;11(1):24. doi:10.1186/s40945-021-00119-w

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