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Mobility & Joint Health

We hear a great deal about mobility today. In fact, you can’t turn on social medial without seeing some activity or exercise you “must” do to be “mobile”. The reality is that there isn’t just one or two activities that will make us mobile.

Looking at mobility from a 10,000-foot view we can easily see where most land on flexibility as how to “become more mobile”. In and of itself it’s not a bad place to start, but if we were to step a little further back & look at mobility from a 50,000-foot view we see that mobility entails so much more than just individual joint motion.

From a 50,000-foot view of mobility there are at least 3 other facets we should consider along with flexibility:

These include:

  1. Flexibility

  2. Motor Control

  3. Balance

  4. Strength

We've discussed the 50,000 foot view in another post here. In this post we’d like to keep our discussion around the 10,000 ft view. Flexibility is the ability to move a joint or a series of joints through a full, non-restricted, pain-free range of motion. A joint may have more or less motion than what might be considered normal. If a joint has less motion, then that joint is considered to be hypomobile or stiff. There are several reasons a joint may become less mobile, including trauma, surgery, lack of movement, pain, etc…

In the case of limited joint mobility, the typical thought is to passively stretch a muscle to elongate the muscle to increase a joints mobility. However, it is important to remember that muscles are only one tissue associated with a joint that may limit that joint's motion.

Considering the body as a whole in the context of limited joint motions there are 3 major ‘movement rocks’ that I take a look at first in the majority of my clients.  

These ‘Movement Rocks’ include:

1.        Thoracic Spine

2.        Hips

3.        Ankles

In the thoracic spine we often see limits in rotation and extension. In the hips we see limits in one or more of the motions associated with the hips such as extension and or abduction. As for the ankles these too are often limited in the ability to move the foot up and down. At first glance this may not seem like much, but limits in these areas have far reaching implications in a persons overall function. For example, if a person is lacking hip or ankle mobility the knee often adapts due to being the 'path of least resistance'. The knee is between the two longest levers of the human body and therefore potentially subjected to a great deal of stress under normal loading. If the ankle or hip is limited then movement in the knee will adapt to a point where as to compensate for the lack in mobility above or below in order to achieve as normal a lower extremity movement as possible. Whether or not the knee tissues are able to handle this change in load or not remains to be seen.

Interestingly it has been noted that folks can lose between 3 to 8% of their joint mobility as they age past 30 years of age. This underscores the recommendation that a person should increase or at least maintain as much motion as possible over their lifetime and throughout their bodies in order to continue to maintain their quality of function well into their golden years.

There are a few other things you may want to consider when trying to maintain joint health. These include physical, nutritional, and sleep-based strategies to support joint health:

Physical Strategies

  • Low-Impact Exercises

Purpose: Strengthen muscles around the joints, improve flexibility, and reduce joint strain.

Examples: Swimming, cycling, and yoga are excellent as they enhance muscle strength without putting excessive stress on the joints.

  • Mobility Training

Purpose: Increase flexibility and range of motion, and decrease the risk of joint injuries.

Examples: Daily stretching routines that target all major muscle groups, focusing particularly on those areas that support key joints like hips, knees, and shoulders.

  • Strength Training

Purpose: Build muscle to support and protect joints.

Examples: Use light weights or resistance bands to perform exercises like squats, lunges, and arm lifts. Two sessions per week are advisable, focusing on all major muscle groups.

Nutritional Strategies

  • Anti-inflammatory Foods

Purpose: Reduce joint inflammation and pain.

Examples: Incorporate omega-3 fatty acids found in fish like salmon and mackerel, as well as in flaxseeds and walnuts. Add fruits and vegetables like berries, oranges, and leafy greens that are high in antioxidants.

  • Adequate Hydration

Purpose: Maintain the lubrication of joints and help prevent gout and kidney stones that can exacerbate joint pain.

Examples: Aim for at least 8 glasses of water daily. You can include other fluids like herbal teas and broths, which also contribute to hydration.

  • Calcium and Vitamin D

Purpose: Support bone health, which is crucial for joint function.

Examples: Dairy products like milk and yogurt, fortified foods, and sunlight exposure for Vitamin D. Supplements may be considered under medical guidance, especially in regions with limited sunlight.

Sleep-based Strategies

  • Optimal Sleep Environment

Purpose: Improve sleep quality, which is vital for tissue repair and pain management.

Examples: Ensure a dark, quiet, and cool bedroom. Invest in a supportive mattress and pillows that accommodate your preferred sleeping position to avoid straining the neck or back.

  • Consistent Sleep Schedule

Purpose: Regulate the body's natural sleep-wake cycle, enhancing sleep quality.

Examples: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This consistency helps reinforce your body's sleep-wake cycle.

  • Pre-sleep Routine

Purpose: Wind down effectively before bed to improve sleep initiation.

Examples: Develop a relaxing bedtime routine that may include reading, meditation, or gentle stretching. Avoid screens and stressful activities an hour before bed.

As you begin to take back your joint health, progressively build habits that support your joints through physical activity, nutritional support, and restorative sleep, but be sure to tailor these to your specific needs and in relation to your capacity as you age.

It's always good to consult with health professionals when designing or participating in new health programs, especially for individuals with existing health conditions. If you have questions about your own joint health and would like help designing a tailored program for yourself, don't hesitate to reach out today. We'd love to help!

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