Updated: Dec 16, 2022
A patient asked me why mobility matters… it's a great question with a lot of nuances BUT let’s first define mobility.
Mobility is the range of motion of a joint that you can actively control (Ideally Pain-Free).
Mobility of our body and joints is what allows us to navigate and move within our environment, engage in sports, dance, walk, play, etc.
Otherwise, we would just be a bag of skin or tin man, either way, not being able to move.
Back to the question... Why does mobility matter?
We will start with the SAID principle. SAID stands for
Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand.
The tissues of your body will adapt to the inputs and stimuli placed upon it. Our body adapts to the things we do to it on a regular basis.
Let's look at some different examples
- Muay Thai kickboxers' shin bones are thicker from repeatedly stressing that area by kicking hard objects to prepare for their fights.
- Legendary tennis player and clay court king, Rafael Nadal, has disproportionately sized arms due to the sport being a unilateral activity. (As with many tennis players)
(Yes, he is flexing with that arm, but google it, his left arm is bigger) (Photo Source: unknown)
- Bodybuilders putting on immense amounts of muscle weight lifting to prepare for shows. Want to get strong? Do things that require you to be strong, over and over and over.
- Braces... yes, like the ones on your teeth, helping over time with specific stress to move your teeth into a different position.
- Learning a task or activity... want to be able to make a free throw in basketball? You have to do it over and over and over again. Basketball star, Stephen Curry, doesn't have the best free throw percentage in the NBA from shooting a few times here and there. Want to learn something new? Study that something or do that something repeatedly.
These examples of adaptation as you can see are unique to each individual and their goals as is the same with the mobility of your joints.
Yes, just as when you stimulate the tissue to change or maintain a function, a lack of stimulus will result in a loss of that ability. Our body wants to conserve resources and it takes resources to maintain tissues like our joints.
How much mobility do I need?
We have all seen people on the internet or social media doing crazy feats of physical performance, yogis doing impressive movements, or contortionists bending into positions that would leave many stuck like that forever!
When we think of how much mobility each person needs we should focus on what aspects of our OWN INDIVIDUAL lives we value and double down on that.
There are things that arguably everyone should be able to do...
To name a few would be to be able to squat, hinge, bend, twist/turn, reach overhead, and get up and off the ground. Other areas of focus should be the neck and lower back as the nerves supplying function to our arms comes out of the neck and the same with our lower back for our legs.
If you are one to say I can't do "insert activity here" because of my age or if you have experienced throwing your back out bending down to tie your shoe or hurting your neck checking your blindspot then likely your tissues have issues.
When we live in mid-range and do not maintain healthy joints capable of a full range of motion, the previously mentioned experiences are likely to occur.
How often do you go through a full range of motion with every joint? Not very often? Unlike bones and muscles where there is a high amount of blood flow and vascularization joints do not share that same access to the blood supply. Taking your joints through their full range of motion often helps drive fresh oxygen and nutrient-rich blood into those tissues.
As we age healing does not occur like when we were young BUT the reason you threw your arm out playing football was not that you are old but because you do not play and train like you did when you were younger. The tissues adapted to your more sedentary lifestyle choices.
Broken Record: Mobility needs are unique to the individual…
Do you wrestle or do Jiu-Jitsu? If so, your goals and prerequisites will be significantly different than someone that wants to move pain-free doing basic activities of daily living.
Brazilian researchers developed a test called the Sitting-Rising Test that aimed to evaluate an individual's risk for all-cause mortality by the ability to get up and down from the ground. There were some concerns with the study's designs and conclusions but the biggest takeaway is if you have joints and strength that allow more movement options and capability, you will likely live with better health and maybe longer.
A joint capable of expressing a full range of motion with little to no pain is more likely to aid in coordination and to move enough to stimulate the brain as well as maintain and/or build muscle and bone density, all to help us better navigate our environment.
There is no agreed-upon best practice in taking care of our joints. We are not given a user manual but you can make your own. Reverse engineer what you want to be able to do when you are 80, 90, or 100 and apply the SAID principle. Do those things frequently.
- It's never too late to start moving more
A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to joint degradation but an active lifestyle can improve the function of those with osteoarthritis.
Don't rest until the good is better and the better is best!
- Take each joint through its full (pain-free) range of motion daily or as often as possible
I recommend the Controlled Articular Rotation (CARs) routine (viewed as daily brushing and flossing for my joints) but any movement is great.
Better health and control of one's joints can improve coordination and improved ability to build muscle and strength.
- The difference between the poison and the magic is the dose
Too little stimulus or load = will not get the desired adaptation
Too much stimulus or load = injury
Be like Goldilocks... find the one in the middle that is just right
Don't know where to start?
Reach out if you have questions or want assistance incorporating more mobility and joint health practices into your life.
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You don't stop playing (moving) because you get older, you get older because you stop playing (moving).