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Joint Mobility vs. Joint Stability


By: Cierra Washington, ATC

Are we talking about joint mobility or stability? Many people tend to used the wrong word when speaking about the body. So let’s clear this up, starting with the breakdown of the words. A “joint” refers to any location in the body in which two bones meet together. Now on to “mobility”, with the root word “mobile” referring to some sort of movement. When it pertains to the body, joint mobility refers to the joint being able to move without being restricted by the surrounding tissues. Next is stability, which is derived from the root word “stable,” meaning being firmly fixed.

Each joint in the body, 360 to be exact, needs to have both joint mobility and stability in order to be able to perform the necessary movements of daily life. Let’s pick a random joint to look at: the atlanto-occipital joint. This joint attaches the head to the spine. When it comes to the cervical spine, as in the neck, immobility can be quite dangerous and lead to compensatory problems. For instance, let’s take a look at something as simple as driving. When navigating a vehicle, it is extremely important to be able to monitor all sides of the vehicle. Imagine driving down the highway and wanting to switch lanes, but not having the rotation to look and create a safe lane change. Not only are you endangering you and your passengers, but you are also at risk of seriously hurting others in the other car and even worse, those around the scene.

Let’s move on to stability. With the average human head weighing roughly 10-11 pounds, it is vital that the surrounding structures provide ample stability. Think about infants and their inability to hold their head up, or to the side, or anywhere. They haven’t quite built up the strength to provide the stability needed, which is why those who hold them always support their heads. The cervical vertebrae, intervertebral discs, musculature, and ligaments all play a vital role in forming the stability needed to stabilize the head. The vertebrae, alignment the spinal column creating the bones foundation, while the discs allow for stable,smooth movement, and the muscles and ligaments provide additional stability while stationary and during movement.

It is very common to see lack of both joint mobility and stability in all areas as we age, due to the fact that we tend to become less active. When one is more active they are continuously going through different ranges of motion, which decreases joint stiffness. Muscle mass and strength also naturally decreases as we age, which lessens the support of the joint, leading to decreased stability. The shoulder is a perfect example. As we age, we tend to do less strenuous activities, such as reaching overhead, directly correlating to the inability to get their arms higher than shoulder height. And there you have Adhesive Capsulitis, also known as “frozen shoulder”. This condition could also be present due to the surrounding tissues lack of strength. Let’s all go back to our childhood and imagine the stuffed animals or dolls we played with. We could move those toys’ arms and legs through any motion, however they didn’t have the strength to do it on their own.

If you don’t use it, you lose it.

Here at LSTC, we often see a lack of both conditions anywhere from the neck, shoulders, back, hips, knees and even toes. If you are lacking mobility or stability in any joint, outside of those listed, please don’t hesitate to give us a call at 703-450-4300. We’re always up for the challenge!

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