Joint mobility training has become more popular in recent times. Mobility training involves changing the degree to which an articulation (where two bones meet) is allowed to move before being restricted by surrounding structures (ligaments/tendons/muscles/ fascia/ joint capsule and nervous system). Working with any joint, the trainer needs to ensure that there is both joint stability as well as sufficient mobility so as to perform functional movement as efficiently and effectively as possible. Whilst flexibility training focuses primarily on temporary lengthening of muscles, mobility training involves active movements patterns, resulting in lasting change in the structural tissues surrounding the joint. There is much debate as to how much stability or mobility a joint should have. This should be determined by the design and functional requirements of that joint e.g. the knee joint is designed primarily for extension and flexion, so one wouldn’t encourage lateral movements. Mike Boyle proposed a simple summary of the relationship between all the major joints of the body and their function in terms of stability/ mobility in his joint by joint approach to mobility:
Joint — Primary Need
Ankle — Mobility (sagittal)
Knee — Stability
Hip — Mobility (multi-planar)
Lumbar Spine — Stability
Thoracic Spine — Mobility
Scapula — Stability
Gleno-humeral — Mobility
With a large shift towards functional training, Fitness experts now view the body in terms of muscular/ joint systems, not isolated joints. When the intended mobile joint becomes immobile, the stable joint is forced to move as compensation, becoming less stable and subsequently painful.
An example of this would be, if an individual lacked mobility in the hips, he/ she would ‘’find’’ mobility in the lower back, making it less stable and painful (there are of course many other causes for lower back pain).
The Process can be summarised as follows:
- Lose ankle mobility, get knee pain
- Lose hip mobility, get low back pain
- Lose thoracic mobility, get neck and shoulder pain, or low back pain
The hip is probably the one exception, as a hypermobile hip may also result in knee injuries.
Mobility drills can be defined as deliberate movements through a defined pathway, done repetitively, usually without resistance. Besides some change to the tissue structures of the joint, these repetitive movements are said to improve the neural pathways and brain mapping of the specific movement, making joint motion better with practice and repetition. Examples includes movements such as wall slides, multi directional lunges, shoulder circles etc.