This review examines the influences of physiological aging processes on connective tissue, joint integrity, flexibility (range of motion [ROM]), and physical functions of older adults. Studies that attempted to improve older adults' ROM are also critiqued. Multiple mechanisms of musculoskeletal and soft-tissue degeneration, as well as disease processes (osteoporosis, arthritis, atherosclerosis), contribute to significant decreases in neuromuscular function and ROM in older adults, all of which can be exacerbated by disuse influences. No delineation of disuse effects on the rate of aging-related decrements in ROM can be provided, however, because long-term investigations (with physical activity controls) have not been conducted. Research efforts have documented both upper and lower extremity decrements in ROM with development of physical impairments, reductions in basic and instrumental activities of daily living, and progression of disability. There is limited research evidence that either specialized stretch-training or general-exercise intervention protocols moderately improve ROM in older adults and the frail elderly.
The authors are with the Institute of Health and Sport Sciences at the University of Tsukuba, 1-1-1, Tennodai, Tsukuba, Japan 305-8574.