When tissue fibres of muscles, tendons and ligaments are rarely used, those fibres tend to shrink and limit the range of motion that can be reached without injury.

Two weeks after my mother passed the birthday that made her an official senior citizen, she fell and badly sprained a rotator cuff.

The rotator cuff is made up of small muscles ending in long, wide tendons that form a “cuff” around the humerus.

Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia writes, “There are four muscle tendons that connect to the shoulder that make up the rotator cuff. Together these four tendons stabilize the upper arm bone to the shoulder socket and allow the wide range of motion in the shoulder.”

My mother didn’t do the therapy advised by her surgeon and didn’t move her arm much afterward. Less than a year later, she had what was known as a frozen shoulder. There was very little range of motion in her upper arm, and it hurt when she tried to lift it.

Basically, the arm was fused, rather than usable. Fused muscle groups will always reel in the range of motion. It’s one reason why tissue and joint injuries become more common as we get older.

If the problem is not caused by some form of arthritis, it may be something that can be easily cured, since the cause can often be reversed. The cause is basically lack of use.

Even before middle age, many people become much less active. They don’t move around as much. When tissue fibres of muscles, tendons and ligaments are rarely used, those fibres tend to contract. They shrink. So does the range of motion that can be reached without injury. Major joints are usually the earliest to display this restriction of movement.

The knee is often affected first. Known as stiff knee syndrome, The Knee and Shoulder Centers describes it as arthrofibrosis and calls it a serious condition occurring after injury or surgery to the knee, when an abnormal amount of scar tissue is formed.

“Sometimes even nearby tendons outside of the joint stiffen up. This internal and external tightening process may continue to the point where motion between the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone) is severely restricted. Afflicted patients may permanently lose the ability to fully straighten and/or bend their knee,” the site says, adding that a lack of movement by the knee joint can help cause the problem, with additional problems because the unused knee ligaments are never stretched out, so they continue to tighten and contract.

One big clue that this process is already beginning is stiffness. If you’re feeling stiffness in a muscle or joint that hasn’t been injured, ask yourself if perhaps you haven’t been using that muscle or joint very much lately.

Many non-arthritic joints with painful or restricted movement can be eased or even restored to normal by starting to slowly stretch out the contracted tissues. The key to remember is to do it slowly.

In order to overcome atrophy and contraction, these fibres must be once again able to stretch and slide past each other. They have to be coaxed. Yanking them out of their limited range of motion too fast will cause injury.

The latest science is also showing that short and frequent bouts of exercise may have a better training effect than one extended exercise session, according to the New York Times Well Blog.

Well tells of a 2012 study where researchers found that “one 30-minute afternoon walk improved blood pressure readings for 24 hours among adults with borderline hypertension. Three 10-minute walks spaced throughout the day improved overall blood pressure just as effectively, but unlike the single session, they also blunted subsequent spikes in pressure, which can indicate worsening blood pressure control.”

There’s an overriding sum-up to all this information. Our muscles, tendons and ligaments were made to be moved. So were our bones. We may not actually lose them if we don’t use them, but the resulting stiffness and tissue contraction may interfere with mobility – because non-movement will fuse them. – Tribune News Services