Do sore, stiff joints stop you from moving around as easily as you’d like to? Do you find activities such as bending or reaching more demanding than they should be because your joints are less mobile than they once were? Would you like to increase your joint mobility to make everyday activities and make exercise more comfortable and enjoyable? If so, this advice is for YOU!
Better joint mobility will make virtually all tasks more comfortable and easier to perform and may even stop your joints from cracking and creaking.
What Is Mobility?
Mobility is the term used to describe how easily and smoothly your joints move — a joint being the union between two or more bones such as your wrists, knees and shoulders.
Joints Can Be Classified in One of Three Ways:
- Immoveable — like the bones of your skull.
- Slightly Moveable — like the joints of your spine and pelvis.
- Freely Moveable — like your ankles, knees, hips etc.
Freely moveable joints, also called synovial joints, are the most common joints in your body. A synovial joint is made up of the bones that form the joint, the hyaline cartilage that covers the ends of the bones and the synovial membranes which produce a nourishing and lubricating substance called synovial fluid.
Joint Mobility Can Be Reduced Because of Several Factors:
- Wear and tear of the joint surface — the hyaline cartilage — which may lead to osteoarthritis.
- Tight muscles surrounding the joint, which limit the range of movement.
- Extended periods of inactivity leads to reduced synovial fluid production and “dry” un-lubricated joints.
Depending on the cause and degree of limitation, reduced joint mobility can have a relatively small or very large impact on your ability to move. For example, severe limitations caused by advanced osteoarthritis may preclude walking and confine the sufferer to a wheel-chair. However, a reduction in joint mobility caused by something as simple as tight muscles around the shoulders may just make putting on a t-shirt a little harder than normal.
Because joint mobility issues can be so broad ranging, it is important that, if you suffer any joint problems, you have the joint in question professionally assessed so that you can determine what the best and safest course of action is.
Improving Joint Mobility
Assuming your joints are relatively healthy and your medical professional has given you the all clear, if you need to improve your joint mobility, there are several things you can do to win back lost joint mobility and reclaim your ability to move smoothly and comfortably. However, there are a few things you need to consider before you start.
It is important to realize that your joint mobility didn’t disappear overnight as muscle tightness and internal joint changes take a long time to develop. It may take several months of consistent, careful effort to increase your joint mobility. The process may be uncomfortable initially but, if you persevere, you can do it!
Another important thing to understand is that while exercise can help restore your mobility, lifestyle factors also affect the health of your joints. Being significantly overweight, eating a diet high in sugar, which can cause joint inflammation, or spending too much time in one position, i.e. sitting, will adversely affect your mobility and limit the benefits you experience from exercising.
In some cases, joints can become so worn that surgery becomes necessary but, in many cases, these invasive procedures can be delayed or even avoided completely by making the right lifestyle changes. You can, with perseverance, be your own joint doctor!
Improving joint mobility requires a one-two punch combination of stretching and specific joint mobility exercises. There is no need to work on each and every joint in your body — although doing so may ensure you preserve your joint mobility well into your golden years! Instead, focus on the joints that really need attention — commonly the knees, hips and shoulders.
Tight muscles can prevent a joint from moving freely and as all joints are controlled by several muscles, this means you will need to stretch several muscles per joint. Stretch the muscles all around the joint you want to mobilize — remember there are several muscles per joint that need your attention.
- Ankle — stretch your calf and shin muscles.
- Knee — stretch your front, rear, inner and outer thigh muscles.
- Hip — stretch your front, rear, inner and outer hip muscles.
- Shoulder — stretch your chest, upper back and shoulder muscles.
Whenever you stretch a muscle, make sure you warm up first by doing a few minutes of brisk walking or other cardio activity to increase the blood flow to the area and make the muscles being stretched more elastic.
Ease into each stretch slowly and gently, and do not bounce as bouncing can lead to injury. Hold each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds, breathing slowly and evenly the whole time. You should feel mild discomfort but no pain in the area you are stretching. Make sure you position your body in such a way that you can stay relaxed while you stretch the target muscle and are in no way uncomfortable. It is safe to stretch every day and even more frequently if you feel your muscles are especially tight. Once you have stretched, it’s time to move on to joint mobility exercises.
Joint Mobility Exercises
Joint mobility exercises involve moving your joints though a comfortable but gradually increasing range of movement to elevate synovial fluid production. To achieve this, simply take the target joint and move it through its natural movement arc. For example, sit and make gradually larger circles with your ankles or roll your shoulders up and back and then progress to bent arm and then straight arm circles. Mobility exercises may be uncomfortable initially, but as synovial fluid production increases, your joints should move more smoothly and easily.
With your ankles, knees and hips, try to perform non-weight bearing exercises initially and then progress to weight-bearing exercises as you feel ready. For example, sit on a chair and bend and extend your knees before you progress onto movements like shallow knee bends, progressing to deeper squats.
Like stretching, it is safe to mobilize your joints every day, but progress slowly to avoid making your joints sore. Start off with 20 or so repetitions per joint and increase gradually.
Nutrition For Joint Health
Because joint mobility can be affected by nutritional deficiencies, you may find that certain foods and supplements can enhance joint health. Common joint health nutrients include fish oil, glucosamine, chondroitin, green-lipped mussel and MSM. Speak to your doctor before using any such supplements, in case they interact with any medication you may currently be taking.
One of the worst things you can do your joint mobility is sit in your chair and avoid exercising because it is uncomfortable or difficult. I know it’s tempting because it’s common sense to want to avoid things that hurt. However, if you want to regain lost joint function, and rediscover the joy of moving smoothly and comfortably, you have to get up and do it for yourself. Even if you are unable to fully regain your lost mobility, any mobility that you win back is a major victory over Old Father Time!