I use the term joint mobility all the time, but as I interact with coaches and reflect on how people THINK of the term, joint mobility, more and more I think we are getting it all wrong. When I refer to the term “joint mobility”, I am referring to both the range and ease in which someone can move a joint through a range of motion. There are MANY factors that go determine one’s joint mobility and that is where we get into one of the biggest issues. For the majority of people in fitness that I connect with, they seem to think joint mobility is about the health of the specific joint itself. I get the confusion, but it is still a rather significant incorrect belief.
You can see just above if we are talking EXCLUSIVELY about a joint itself (which never really exists in the human body alone) there are joint mobility dysfunction factors and tissue extensibility dysfunction issues. Not only do most people (including most fitness pros) not have the skills to diagnose these issues (that can often require various imaging as well), to distinguish them from one another and to realize they could overlap becomes complicated fast. Plus, if you truly DID have any of these joint dysfunctions, probably one of the worst things you could do was just try to move the joint around.
Instead, what we want to think about is a more global way at looking at improving joint mobility. How so? Here are some big keys that will make your joint mobility training far more effective.
The Myofascial System
Of course almost all of us are introduced to stretching very young as we are told to “stretch our muscles” to become resilient to injury and move better. However, that advice doesn’t really hold true and also ignored the fact that we don’t want to just stretch our muscles, but also important connective tissue known as fascia (myofascia refers to both muscle and connective tissue like fascia). Why is that? Check out a little of the video below…
The most effective way of ensuring that we are moving the body to work all these different networks is through what is known as myofascial stretching. How is this form of stretching different than what we all grew up with? Myofascial stretching takes advantage of the big “web” that fascia creates connecting many areas of our body to create more integrated stretches. This has been shown to be VERY effective in restoring joint mobility and helping reduce some of the common aches and pain people experience.
For almost the time that DVRT started we have been promoting the importance of core stability for better joint mobility. Research study after research study reinforces that when we have better core stability, we gain better joint mobility. That is from the idea that the nervous system is in charge of protecting our bodies. When the nervous system sense instability in the body it will “react” by creating tightness so we don’t get injured. The most common areas where we see this tightness occur is in the hips and shoulders (as well as the thoracic spine).
That means when we gain core stability, we also give the okay to our nervous system to take off those brakes. That is why the concept of “proximal stability for distal mobility is so popular”. However, we fail to realize how impactful this is to many common joint mobility issues. For example, we know that sitting, for example, is very common in our current culture. However, the impact of sitting and “tightness” that develops probably doesn’t happen for the reasons many think. A 2022 study found,
“Continuous contraction of the trunk muscles during prolonged sitting can lead to deep trunk muscle fatigue. This fatigue reduces muscular support to the spine and increases stress on ligaments and intervertebral discs [9,10]; consequently, it reduces intervertebral disc height [11,12]. Reductions in disc height could increase compressive stress on sensitive spinal structures [13,14] and may stimulate nociceptor activity, leading to pain . Stature change measurement is a method used to reflect alterations in spinal length, and the reduction of spinal length is known as spinal shrinkage or stature loss . Prolonged sitting postures could lead to stature reduction and ultimately to low back pain [9,16,17].
Trunk muscles play an essential role in contributing to spinal stability . There are two types of trunk muscle systems: superficial and deep [19,20]. The internal oblique (IO), transversus abdominis (TrA), and lumbar multifidus (LM) muscles represent a deep muscle system that compensates for forces on the upper body of the spine and increases lumbar stability [18,21]. Previous studies reported changes in the muscle recruitment pattern and timing of muscle onset in people with low back pain [22,23]. Increased superficial trunk muscle activation occurs to compensate for deep trunk muscle dysfunction [24,25], in which the neural control subsystem attempts to maintain spinal stability [18,26]. Increased activation of the superficial trunk muscle can compress the spinal structure and lead to delayed stature recovery [25,27].”
The solution the study finds are breathing exercises that help activate those deep core stabilizers. Those muscles you can’t really isolate nor consciously contract very well (if I asked you to flex your multifidus that wouldn’t go well). Deep breathing exercises can help with toning down the superficial core muscles (like the obliques that might try to take over the stability they shouldn’t be trying to do.
If we focus on integrated movements like myofascial stretching, improve core stability, and use diagonal patterns that match our breath we can create better results in joint mobility MUCH faster! Since THESE issues plague people’s joint mobility than actual joint dysfunction it makes sense it should dominate our joint mobility efforts. Check out how we can apply these concepts below…
Don’t miss our 4-week Myofascial Integrated Movement MasterClass for Chronic Low Back Pain where we will dive deep into the science, coaching, and programming of these powerful solutions for one of the world’s biggest issues. Check it out and grab our early bird HERE
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