Your muscles and joints are designed to be flexible so they can bend and stretch in a variety of ways to help you do things like walk and run, carry a suitcase around, or reach things high up on a shelf in your kitchen. Regularly stretching your body can help improve flexibility, which means your periarticular tissues (those around the joint), muscles, and tendons, are able to extend to the level that you require for daily activities.
However, stretching—which involves moving large muscle groups in a broad range of motion—is not always the only option. Joint mobilization—which focuses more intently on smaller areas in and around the joint—can increase range of motion, improve your ability to move and stretch, and even provide some of the same benefits as weight-bearing exercise. Utilizing both joint mobilization and stretching in conjunction with one another can provide benefits to someone who is experiencing pain or stiffness.
Joint Mobilization Basics
Joint mobilization is a technique used by a skilled chiropractor to help move joints in a specific direction, which allows for better range of motion and improved joint function, and in some cases, a reduction in pain. The technique can be used on any joint, but it is most commonly used on the:
- Back (upper, middle, lower)
- Extremities (shoulder, hand, hip, knee, foot, ankle)
- Sacroiliac and coccygeal joints
Improving Joint Function
Over time the ligaments and other tissues that connect your bones and provide stability can weaken and lose cartilage, which leads to a loss in mobility. When that happens, a simple massage of the soft tissues in the area might not be enough to completely correct tight joint capsules that are tight or stiff. Without joint manipulation, impaired joints can begin to break down and affect surrounding joints and muscles that have to work outside of their normal range to compensate for a stiff or “hypomobile” joint.
Treating Muscles and Joints
Generally speaking, the goal of soft tissue work (such as massage) is to help improve a person’s mobility and reduce pain. What can happen, though, is that practitioners focus to narrowly on loosening the muscles while ignoring the joints. Over time, the tight joints will still cause reduced range of motion, which will cause those muscles to tighten again. By undergoing joint manipulation to loosen the joints along with the muscles in the area, patients have improved range of motion in both areas, and are less likely to have stiffness that can lead to injury.
Another key benefit that patients can see from joint mobilization is a reduction in muscle spasms and tension, as well as a reduction in pain in those areas. Not only does this help your muscles feel better, it improves the health and mobility of your joints so a single impaired joint won’t affect your overall health, well-being, and quality of life.