Mobility vs. Flexibility

We have talked a lot about making our joints work nice, but what does that actually mean? That’s the purpose of today’s blog post.

Simply put, our joints should work the way they have evolved to work. They should have full, pain-free range of motion (ROM) and we should be able to ACTIVELY control ALL of that ROM.

This brings us to the topic of mobility vs flexibility.

Flexibility does not equal mobility.

  • Flexibility = passive ROM (the degree of ROM you are able to achieve without effort).
  • Mobility = active ROM (the degree of ROM you are able to achieve with effort).

How Do You Know If Your Joints Work Nice?

  1. Screen yourself.
  2. Find a movement provider to assess you.

Obviously, your best choice is to find a movement provider to assess you. Especially if you are in pain. However, you can quickly and easily screen your joints at home!

Let’s cover how you can screen yourself.

Take your wrist joint, for example. Let’s take a look at your passive and active wrist ROM to see how your wrist joint is working.

  • Passive ROM (aka flexibility) – moving a joint through its ROM without effort (example: a therapist moving it for you, partner stretching, using a stretching strap, etc.).
  • Active ROM (aka mobility) – utilizing the muscles around the joint to move it through its ROM (no external assistance used).

This quick assessment will show you how your wrist joints are working:

  • For passive ROM, take one hand and push your opposite wrist into full extension. How far can you passively move it? You should have at least 90 degrees of wrist extension.
  • For active ROM, using the muscles on the back of your forearm, pull your wrist into extension, keeping your fingers straight. How far can you actively move it? Again, you should have at least 90 degrees of wrist extension.

Do you have full passive ROM? Is there a difference between your passive and active ROM?


If you have limited passive ROM, you need to work on expanding your ROM (a topic for another day). If you have adequate passive ROM, but lack full active ROM, you also have some work to do.

Your active ROM should be nearly equivalent to your passive ROM.

Having greater passive ROM than active ROM (a passive-active deficit) means that your nervous system does not have CONTROL over your ROM. This is synonymous to a car that can go 100mph, but only has brakes that work up to 60mph! What happens if you try to drive that car at 80mph and then have to brake?!

Loading joints and tissues that your nervous system doesn’t have control over will likely lead to injury and other problems, such as aches and pain. So, what’s the point of being flexible if you’re unable to actively control it? Especially if the consequence may mean injury and pain!


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