I have recently been thinking quite a bit about the importance of joint mobility, not strictly for function, but for joint health. In manual therapy, assessment of a given joint in the body always consists of consideration of joint mobility. Is there enough mobility? If not, why not? Does the joint itself have a motion restriction? Or is there perhaps some tissue outside the joint, like a tight muscle, that is limiting mobility? While it makes sense that a certain degree of motion is important for functional tasks, like bending your knee a certain amount to ascend stairs, mobility is also critical for joint health.
Joint pain is often accompanied by some loss of joint mobility. While it may be possible to get by with a small loss of motion this may be taking its toll on your joint. Taking a joint though it full available motion is critical to providing nutrition to a joint. Nutrients and metabolic waste products are housed in a joint’s synovial fluid and are moved in and out of a joint through motion. Each joint has a position, either fully bent or fully straight, that provides the most narrowing of the joint space. This position in physical therapy is called the close-packed position which allows the joint to excrete waste products. This in turn provides room to draw nutrients into the joint through the joint capsule. When one loses the ability to close-pack a joint it can lead to a slow degenerative process resulting in conditions like osteoarthritis and pain.
This principal applies to the smallest joints at the tips of the fingers, to the joints in the spine, as well as to larger joints like the shoulder and knee. If you have a joint that seems to be getting stiff consider having this assessed by an orthopedic professional. Preserve the motion of your joints and you will be taking an important step to promoting good joint nutrition and health.
About Matt Heyliger, DPT: Matt completed his Doctorate in Physical Therapy at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington. During his clinical experience with the Sports Medicine and Extremities team at The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital in Salt Lake City, Matt was exposed to a wide variety of surgical and non-surgical conditions and developed a solid foundation for the assessment and treatment of orthopedic conditions related to the extremities. Prior to completing his Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree, Matt obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in in philosophy at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Matt has developed a specific interest focus in biomechanics and how impairments at one level or joint affect other body structures. More specifically, he has a particular interest in the relationship of cervical/thoracic spine mechanics and upper extremity conditions. Matt is an avid rock climber, telemark/backcountry skier and mountain biker. Matt regularly practices yoga and enjoys frequent adventures in the mountains with his wife and their Alaskan Malamute.
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