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Stretching Without Relief? Part 2: Joint Mechanics.


Last week we discussed why stretching alone may not be enough to prevent injury, improve performance, alleviate pain, or fix underlying movement issues. Stretching alone fails to help us improve joint mechanics as well as muscular motor control (strength and stability)

We introduced our three primary mobility systems (joint mechanics, sliding surfaces, and muscular dynamics). Today we are discussing joint mechanics in more detail and ways to improve them. When attempting to optimize movement, we need mobilization and mobility techniques to address each system.

Joint Mechanics Our joints are more complex structures than most are aware of; they are composed of articulating bones covered in cartilage, synovial fluid surrounding the bones/filling the synovial cavity, and a joint capsule surrounding the joint to keep everything together. Some joints contain discs, menisci, or ligaments that bring further stability to the joint. Other structures that surround some joints are bursae, fat pads, as well as tendons.

When assessing mobility, we have to see if a joint can move freely into the expected range of motion for the type of joint and body region. Functionally, this assessment determines if the joint can get into a good range of motion for the desired activity.

Limited mobility in the joint can be due to dysfunction at the joint articulating (bone connection) surfaces or the joint capsule itself. Limited movement in the bone connecting surfaces can be due to surface changes over time. However, much of the mobility restriction can be due to limitations in the capsule.

The capsule surrounds the joint and is a thick fibrous/ligamentous tissue that connects bones and cartilage and surrounds the entire joint. The capsule allows the structures within to move but creates stability by preventing overstretching. Due to its robust structure and functional stability, the capsule can become tight or short when joints are in sub-optimal positions (think bad posture for prolonged periods). Tightening or shortening of the capsule can limit the overall joint's ability to move. Simply stretching the muscles around the joint will not improve capsular mobility and yield short-term results for improved mobility.

How to improve joint capsular mobility: Create space within a joint and stretch the capsule with distraction; this can be done via manual therapy or assisted joint distraction using a band. Create an improved joint position with external loading to compress the capsule in a stable position. Lastly, is to self-mobilize the joint by using a towel to gap or a mobility band to compress the joint. Each technique's performance is unique to each joint (reach out for specific examples).

The goals of these mobility drills are to force the joint into a better/more stable position and create more space in the joint via gapping/distraction or compressing the surfaces of the joint to improve its position. If you have specific movement restrictions in a particular joint, reach out. We are happy to discuss ways to improve your joint/capsular limitations.

Please tune in next week as we discuss sliding surfaces and muscular dynamics as they relate to mobility.

Move it or lose it,

Nicole Todisco MacDonald

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