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Be Wise: Mobilize

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

Before I became a massage therapist, I was a fitness instructor and personal trainer. One thing I noticed almost across the board is that most people need more practice in joint mobilization and stabilization (the two go together, after all). We tend to me a very "muscle-centric" society but I would argue that healthy joints are just as (if not more?) important for strength, function and, ultimatly, longevity than strong muscles.

Joint mobility is simply the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion. Mobility is always collaborative: it's two or more structures moving relative to one another. Mobility restrictions can arise from the ligaments (bone-to-bone attachments), tendons (muscle-to-bone attachments), tight/short muscles (always accompanied by an opposite-action long/overstretched one), and even issues within the joint itself. Over time, none of these factors exist independent of one another and all are affected.

With joint mobility comes joint stability. Firstly, when we are able to move our joints through a fuller range of motion, this gives us more access to musculature on all sides of the joint that can create more stability over time, as the joint is more fully surrounded with strong, responsive muscles. Additionally, when we practice joint mobility, this demands stability in other joints. We all know the whole body is connected, so when one joint moves, it needs the stability of surrounding joints to move through that range safely. You'll feel as you go through my open chain mobility sequence, that as one joint moves, the surrounding joints will need a little attention too in order to balance or stay secure.

This balance of mobility and stability is what gives our joints longevity. If joints are hypermobile, ligaments are too lax and surrounding muscles are often weak. If joints are hypomobile, the surrounding muscles often get very tight because they are stressed from having to hold that joint in place. Both scenarios can lead to pain of all different kinds. But healthy, strong, lubricated joints can support functional movement throughout our lifetime! We've just gotta give our joints a little love.

The least joint-health-loving thing we can do is to be sedentary (unmoving). The second least joint-health-loving thing thing we can do is to do the same things over and over and over and over with no compensation (doing the opposite or just something different). The best thing we can do for our joints is to mobilize them and to spend a little extra time with the joints we tend to use the most repetetively (like focusing on hip extension and rotation if you're always sitting, or neck extension and rotation if you're always looking down, like at your phone or laptop).

Joint mobility exercises take joints through their full range of motion. Benefits of practicing joint mobility are:

  • Increased blood, lymph and energy flow through entire body

  • Increased synovial fluid (fluid that bathes and lubricates joints)

  • Increased coordination and proprioception (ability to sense body positioning)

  • Increased balance and stability

  • Prevents muscle tightness

  • Prevents injury

I love joint mobility exercises because they can be done by anyone, no matter your fitness level. Any joint that you can move, moves! Even if you can't hit a FULL range of motion, move to your fullest. You may find over time, your fullest range gets a little fuller. Joint mob moves your body but doesn't stress the system. It's safe for pretty much everyone and can be done with no equipment. It's the simplest thing but it will take you a long way.

I tend to categorize the mobility exercises into open chain and closed chain. Open chain means the body is moving freely through space with no fixed attachments. Closed chain means that a part of the body is fixed to an object, the wall or the floor and the rest of the body orients around that fixed point. I prefer open chain mobility in the mornings or before a workout as they tend to be a bit safer when you're not warmed up yet and they really are great at getting blood and energy flowing through the body. Closed chain mobility can also be done anytime but has the potential to go a little too far if you force it. I like closed chain mobility, though, because it can really get specific with the targeting of musculature and over time can really help with decompensation of overstressed muscles. There's not a right or wrong about it, so long as you're only going to the point of tension, never to the point of pain!! Find what works for you.

Remember, like all practices, mobility exercises will serve you best when practiced consistently. Commit to a little everyday and see get curious about what changes you feel.

In these videos I walk you through a full body open chain mobility sequence (closed chain sequences coming soon). I have a 15 and 40 minute version available below. Keep an eye out on my youtube page for more joint-specific mobility videos! Let me know what you think.

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