Mobility vs Stability of the Joints or perhaps Joint Pain?

The human body is undoubtedly more complex than most people realise or appreciate. Luckily, there is a brilliant approach that allows us to better analyse human movement, joint function and joint pain.

The Joint-by-Joint Approach developed by Gray Cook and Michael Boyle provides a framework for viewing the body as a stack of joints. Each joint or series of joints has a specific function and inherent training needs. In other words, each joint is to be exposed to specific training stimuli depending on the task at hand.

The photo above illustrates an interesting phenomenon: the joints of the body from the bottom up alternate between mobility and stability. For example, the ankle needs increased mobility, the knee increased stability, the hips require greater mobility etc. Thus, creating a chain or series of alternating joints.

The Joint-by-Joint idea offers a framework that broadly tells us which joints need to be stable or mobile and works like this:

So what does this mean? Simply apply this approach when designing workouts and training programs and use it to handle accordingly. If an exercise does not fulfil these criteria, reflect again and ask yourself, to what purpose am I executing this exercise? Does a clean deep squat or a good deadlift or push-up follow the joint-to-joint approach? Think about it. (The answer is obvious: yes!).

When problems emerge at one joint this usually translates to joint pain or compensatory movement in the joint above or below. For example the loss of hip function – when the hip can’t move, the lumbar spine will leading to movement compensation in the lower back. The joints of the lumbar spine are located directly above the hip joints. The problem is that the hips are designed for mobility and the lumbar spine for stability.

If an anticipated “mobile” joint becomes immobile, the “stable” joint is forced to move as compensation. A less stable joint is not only prone to injury but subsequently causes problems elsewhere in the body.

The process is now easy to understand:
• Ankle immobility > develop knee pain
• Hip immobility > develop low back pain (lumbar spine)
• Thoracic immobility > develop neck and shoulder pain, or low back pain

Train and work out using this approach or joint pain and dysfunction will emanate sooner or later. Embrace movements that follow the joint by joint approach if you want to create and maintain optimal joint function.