Mobility is often defined as the joint’s ability to move through its full range of motion without interference. For everyday tasks, our joints are designed to move in a large range of motion and in different directions to allow us to complete a variety of movements. Having sufficient mobility ensures that the joints are efficient in their full range and so the body can safely produce good amounts of force in any position without increasing the chance of injury. However, having a sedentary lifestyle, completing repetitive movements from a sport, or having poor posture causes the body to compensate and develop movement dysfunctions. Because of this dysfunction, the joint is unable to go through is full range and this leads to an increase musculoskeletal pain or increases the risk of injuries. For example, if your occupation is primarily desk work, you will tend to sit in a slouched position for prolonged periods of time. Because of this, the muscles that assist with shoulder setting and maintaining an upright posture (middle to lower trapezius and rhomboid muscles) become weak as they are not being activated. If mobility exercises are not completed, the body will compensate and will keep the muscles that internally rotate and elevate the shoulders active. Therefore, you will develop a slouched posture. From this, joint stiffness occurs, and pressure is placed on the cervical and thoracic spine thus causing musculoskeletal pain.
Exercise therapy has shown to be an effective treatment tool to assist with muscle tightness and joint mobility deficits. It is integral in treating current joint pains and also to correct poor movement patterns. When we look at musculoskeletal pain, we want to take a joint approach and assess the muscles that are potentially overactive/ tight and the muscles that are not activating effectively. Seeing an Exercise Physiologist will assist with managing joint stiffness or pain, as they can assess mobility through range of motion testing, identify muscle imbalances or weaknesses, and provide an individualised exercise program to tailor to your needs.
Here are a couple of useful tips to improve your mobility and your quality of life.
- Identify what muscles that are potentially tight and incorporate mobility specific exercises to lengthen these muscles. For example, to assist with a slouched position, opening up with a thoracic rotation or completing lengthen the pectoral muscles is ideal.
- Identify the muscles that are weak or inactive and strengthen these muscles through resistance-based exercise. E.g. Completing a standing row or I-drills to help with shoulder setting and upright posture.