How to exercise function, not dysfunction, joint-by-joint.

Each of our major joints has a primary need for mobility or stability in an alternating pattern

Knowing this can help you move better and stay out of compensation and pain.

You experience pain in the lower back/neck and shoulders/feet and ankles. You limit your movements to avoid the pain. But there may be another answer. Your pain may stem from subtle compensation patterns that you can change.

Compensation occurs when one body part does not move well and another body part tries to help out. The lumbar spine often compensates for lack of mobility at the hip joints. Or lack of mobility in the upper back. Compensation is common, but not helpful. In this example, it will generate lower back pain.

The joint-by-joint approach can help us identify and change these compensation patterns. Our joints need both mobility and stability. But each joint has a primary need for one or the other. Michael Boyle and Gray Cook first identified this “joint-by-joint approach” to healthy movement .

The joint-by-joint approach applies to most bodies, most of the time. It includes an alternating pattern. A joint that has a primary need for stability has a joint above it and below it that needs mobility.

For example, the vertebra in the lumbar spine need stability. The vertebra in the thoracic spine above it need mobility. The hip joint below it needs mobility.

If you know this pattern, you can use it to exercise function instead dysfunction.

Starting from the bottom, the joint-by-joint alternating pattern looks like this:

  • Foot – Stability
  • Ankle – Mobility
  • Knee – Stability
  • Hip – Mobility
  • Lumbar Spine – Stability
  • Thoracic Spine – Mobility
  • Scapula – Stability
  • Gleno-humeral Joint – Mobililty
  • Lower and Middle Cervical Spine (C3-C7) – Stability
  • Cervical Spine Upper (C1-C2) – Mobililty

Knowing this, we can see that lumbar spine lower back pain may come from too much mobility in the lumbar spine. Even if the lower back feels tight. The lumbar spine may be working overtime trying to compensate for hip immobility. Or thoracic immobility.

The mobility-stability needs in the cervical spine (neck) are a little different. The lower and middle cervical vertebra (C3-C7) need stability. The upper cervical vertebra (C1-C2) need mobility. Any variation of the classic chin tuck demonstrates the cervical spine stability-mobility needs.

In the chin tuck, the skull nods forward and backward over the top two cervical vertebra while the lower and middle vertebra remain stable. Often neck and shoulder issues, including forward head position, stem from a habit of rounding the cervical spine forward to look at our cell phones, computers, or even read a book. Instead of keeping the cervical spine stable and nodding the skull.

Summing Up:

Each major joint has a primary need for either mobility or stability. Think about the needs of each joint as you move or stabilize to help you “feed” your joints what they need. This will support your joints to do the job they were meant to do.  Avoid compensation. It is always a compromise movement. Exercise your function, not your dysfunction.

[Medical Disclaimer: This article is for education and information only. It is not a substitute for a doctor’s opinion.] 

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