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All About Mobilizing Joints!

Mobilizing your joints is an important part of recovery from injury, particularly if stiffness is a source of your problems. When there is too much stiffness in a joint, then the ability to move with appropriate mechanics is diminished, which leads to compensation, injury, and long-term health effects. We want to stay limber in order to have plenty of degrees of freedom to move in the right way! Mobilizations help due to a principle called arthrokinematics, which is the small, imperceptible movements that occur within the joints. Mobility work at the joints can be done in a couple of different ways. We are focusing on 2 in particular today. You can do it by yourself or have someone else do it for you.

In the first scenario, self-mobilization, you typically use some type of band or strap to hit the target area of your joints. Foam rolls could also be used in some situations! Let’s take a specific example of using a band…let’s say you want to mobilize your ankles. Stiffness has kept you from walking the way you want to. If you are going to effectively mobilize that joint, you need to place the band around your ankle. Simple, right? It gets a little more complicated (but not too much). If you want general mobility and don’t care about the direction, it’s a little easier. You can just go through a list and start chipping away. If you want a particular movement to improve, you need to move in a certain direction. Now in our ankle example, we may want to make it easier to bend our ankles so that the top of the foot moves toward the shin (known as dorsiflexion). In this case, you need a pull that moves my tibia (shin bone) backward. So you need to place the band around the front of the ankle and anchor it on something solid behind me. Then you need to actively move into dorsiflexion. (If you need a visual demonstration of what this looks like, then check out this video.) That movement becomes easier as you go through it. The pull of the band opens up the joint in a way that is desired.

In a scenario where someone else is mobilizing your joint for you, you get to be a passive participant (for now). Physical therapists, athletic trainers, etc are often using these ideas. Your joint is placed into a certain position based on the goal of the mobilizing treatment. Then your skilled provider is using their knowledge of joint mechanics to move you in the proper direction. The major advantages of this include having the expertise of a healthcare professional guiding you through it all (no guesswork) and also the ability to be a little more specific in your mobility work a little more easily. The other person is better able to maneuver you into the positions that they want, allowing for a variety of “sticking points” in your mobility to get worked through. The pressure applied can also be more specific. All of the other principles described in self-mobilization are the same. The mechanics are the same.

So what’s the benefit of doing all this? First off, mobility improves. We covered this earlier. Movement and mechanics improve, which is awesome for strength and performance. Other benefits include changing the amount of tension in muscles around the joint. With joint mobilizations, it can aid in relaxing some of the tight muscles, further improving mobility. It also modulates pain. Pain levels can go down after mobilizing. The body is an amazing thing that responds in incredible ways. Just some mobilization work has been shown to temporarily lower pain levels in many people!

Do you feel you have problems with mobility? Some of these options might be the right thing for you! You can find many options available on Instagram or Youtube. The best thing you can do, however, is getting a specific plan put together with the best physical therapist in your area. If you want to talk to us at Backcountry Physical Therapy, we would be more than happy to chat! You can always reach our office by emailing or calling 719-285-9670!

a man standing with his arms crossed in front of him.

Dr. Scott Runyon

Backcountry Physical Therapy

We Help Mountain Athletes Not Only Recover From Injuries, But Build Them Back Stronger Than They Were Before, So That Injuries Are Less Likely To Happen Again!