According to Gummerson, flexibility (he uses the term mobility) is affected by the following factors:
Some sources also the suggest that water is an important dietary element with regard to flexibility. Increased water intake is believed to contribute to increased mobility, as well as increased total body relaxation.
Rather than discuss each of these factors in significant detail as Gummerson does, I will attempt to focus on some of the more common factors which limit one's flexibility. According to SynerStretch, the most common factors are: bone structure, muscle mass, excess fatty tissue, and connective tissue (and, of course, physical injury or disability).
Depending on the type of joint involved and its present condition (is it healthy?), the bone structure of a particular joint places very noticeable limits on flexibility. This is a common way in which age can be a factor limiting flexibility since older joints tend not to be as healthy as younger ones.
Muscle mass can be a factor when the muscle is so heavily developed that it interferes with the ability to take the adjacent joints through their complete range of motion (for example, large hamstrings limit the ability to fully bend the knees). Excess fatty tissue imposes a similar restriction.
The majority of "flexibility" work should involve performing exercises designed to reduce the internal resistance offered by soft connective tissues (see section Connective Tissue). Most stretching exercises attempt to accomplish this goal and can be performed by almost anyone, regardless of age or gender.
The resistance to lengthening that is offered by a muscle is dependent upon its connective tissues: When the muscle elongates, the surrounding connective tissues become more taut (see section Connective Tissue). Also, inactivity of certain muscles or joints can cause chemical changes in connective tissue which restrict flexibility. According to M. Alter, each type of tissue plays a certain role in joint stiffness: "The joint capsule (i.e., the saclike structure that encloses the ends of bones) and ligaments are the most important factors, accounting for 47 percent of the stiffness, followed by the muscle's fascia (41 percent), the tendons (10 percent), and skin (2 percent)".
M. Alter goes on to say that efforts to increase flexibility should be directed at the muscle's fascia however. This is because it has the most elastic tissue, and because ligaments and tendons (since they have less elastic tissue) are not intended to stretched very much at all. Overstretching them may weaken the joint's integrity and cause destabilization (which increases the risk of injury).
When connective tissue is overused, the tissue becomes fatigued and may tear, which also limits flexibility. When connective tissue is unused or under used, it provides significant resistance and limits flexibility. The elastin begins to fray and loses some of its elasticity, and the collagen increases in stiffness and in density. Aging has some of the same effects on connective tissue that lack of use has.
With appropriate training, flexibility can, and should, be developed at all ages. This does not imply, however, that flexibility can be developed at the same rate by everyone. In general, the older you are, the longer it will take to develop the desired level of flexibility. Hopefully, you'll be more patient if you're older.
According to M. Alter, the main reason we become less flexible as we get older is a result of certain changes that take place in our connective tissues. As we age, our bodies gradually dehydrate to some extent. It is believed that "stretching stimulates the production or retention of lubricants between the connective tissue fibers, thus preventing the formation of adhesions". Hence, exercise can delay some of the loss of flexibility that occurs due to the aging process.
M. Alter further states that some of the physical changes attributed to aging are the following: