Flexion is the movement of a joint that increases the angle between the joint and the body part. Movement of a body part to the side is called lateral flexion.
This type of movement is commonly associated with the neck and spine. For example, when you move your head toward one of your shoulders or bend your body sideways, you’re performing a lateral flexion.
The spinal column provides central support to your body. It protects your spinal cord and gives you the flexibility to bend and move about freely.
The spine is made up of 24 mobile bones (vertebrae) in three primary segments:
- The cervical spine consists of the first seven vertebrae located in your neck.
- The thoracic spine encompasses the 12 vertebrae in your upper back.
- The remaining five vertebrae in your lower back make up the lumbar spine.
An issue with a spinal disc, vertebra, or nerve can affect the mobility of the spine and a person’s ability to move laterally.
Spine mobility can be affected by any number of conditions or injuries, including:
- herniated discs
- fractured vertebrae
A tool called a goniometer is commonly used to determine range of lateral flexion. This tool precisely measures angles.
To measure lateral flexion of the spine, a healthcare provider places the goniometer over your sacrum, which is the triangular bone at the base of the spine, located between the hip bones of the pelvis.
The healthcare provider positions the stationary arm of the goniometer perpendicular to the floor and the moving arm in line with your spine.
They next have you bend to one side without bending forward or backward. They adjust the moving arm accordingly and record the results in degrees.
They then repeat the measurement on the other side.
The normal range of motion for lateral flexion of the lumbar region is 40 to 60 degrees.
A combination of stretching and exercise may improve your range of motion and flexibility in your lateral movements. Incorporating lateral flexion into the right exercises can help improve your trunk strength by working your oblique and side muscles.
Side and hip stretch
For improving lateral flexibility, try this exercise.
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder width apart.
- Using controlled motions, raise your right arm over your head.
- Slowly lean to the left. Keep your stomach tight. You should feel the hip and stomach muscles pulled when leaning.
- Repeat with the other side.
Low back stretch
The low back stretch can help you ease tension in your lower back.
How to do it:
- Lay flat on your back.
- Bring your left knee as far as you can to your chest, place your left hand on the outside of your knee, and turn your head to the left.
- Using your left hand, push your left knee to the right across your chest. Keep your head facing to the left. You should feel your back stretch as you twist.
- Repeat with the opposite side.
If you want to improve lateral flexion in your neck, give neck rolls a try.
How to do them:
- Take a deep breath and relax your neck muscles.
- Place your chin on your chest.
- Slowly roll your neck to each side in a circle.
Lateral flexion involves bending a body part, mainly your torso and neck, sideways. This type of movement can be affected by back injuries and other conditions.
You can improve your lateral mobility with stretches and exercises focused on increasing flexibility in your back.
Consult with your doctor before entering into any new exercise regimen.