This article was originally published in British Strength Magazine. You can subscribe for free at www.britishstrengthmagazine.com
Your body's movement has two parts to it. The first is the range of motion that is actually physically achievable at each joint, and the second is a blueprint in the brain that dictates how much movement the brain wants the body to achieve in order to be able to move around effectively and efficiently. When we are born and have no injuries and movement restrictions these two parts live in harmony, do not intersect and in everyday movement the joints are rarely taken to their extremes. However, as soon as an injury occurs and a joint is taken beyond its available range of motion there is the potential that it will become restricted and then the the movement that the brain wants and 'requires' has to be achieved from elsewhere in the body.
The body usually falls apart and creates compensations in logical patterns, which will be explained by positions that people are always in, movements they always perform, movements they never perform, or specific injury mechanisms. So when the body can't attain a certain range of motion due to a restriction it will borrow the movement that it requires from somewhere else. It will also try to do this in a logical fashion and get this movement from very close to where the restriction is or from another joint in the body but preferably in the same plane of movement. So for example if you have a bad ankle sprain and your ankle is no longer able to rotate as much as it should your body will compromise another joint to get the rotation that it wants eg. from the knee or from the hip. This will then have a knock on affect into the muscular system as the muscles that have to support and control the movement of the joints are put under extra pressure. So in this example all the musculature responsible for controlling the increased rotation at the knee or the hip will have an increased load on it and tighten up as it seeks to control this additional, excess movement which it is not designed to do, or if it suddenly has to do it not prepared to do. This in turn may have a negative long term effect on the knee if it is required to rotate more than it is really designed to do and will lead to a faster onset of crepitis, artritis and so on.
Now if we marry this blueprint theory with a theory called the Joint-by-Joint (JbJ) approach which was an idea of Gray Cook and popularised by Mike Boyle you can start making sense of what they body may be, or not be, doing and why. This approach gave rise to the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) and Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA) which are designed to highlight where someone has a restriction by using a variety of movements and scoring them to allow easy progress tracking.
The JbJ approach describes how the body is set up to create stability in some locations and promote mobility in others and looks a little something like this:
Foot – stability
Ankle – mobility
Knee – stability
Hips – mobility
Lumbar and sacral – stability
Thoracic – mobility
Lower cervical – stability
Upper cervical – mobility
Scapula – stability
Shoulder (gleno-humeral) – mobility
Elbow – stability
Wrist – mobility
The terms mobility and stability have become buzz words that appear all over the place. Unfortunately some people have used these words out of context and this has led to a misunderstanding of what they were actually designed to mean. The areas and joints that require stability are still designed to move and need to be able to move through an appropriate range of motion in a controlled fashion – so think more mobile stability. Similarly the mobile areas need stability to be able to move efficiently and under control – so more like stable mobility. It is important to realise that the stable areas should not be rigid as they commonly become and then people mistake this rigidity for stability. It also unfortunately endorses 'static' based core exercises such as planking to help create this stability even though the carryover of this exercise to any functional movement is questionable at best – I certainly struggle to think of an activity, movement or exercise where everything stays still.
I'm sure most of you have noticed that the body seems to be set up to have joints that alternate between needing stability and mobility. Pretty clever right? Whether by design or through evolution this alternation between the movement of joints gives us a strong foundational platform for the joints that need mobility to build on.
So what happens when the system becomes compromised?
When a joint that requires stability does not have it the body goes looking for where it can get it elsewhere and often stabilises a joint that should be mobile, think of all the people with a solid thoracic spine. And, conversely if a joint doesn't have the mobility it requires, as in the earlier example, it will get this mobility from somewhere else. Justin Kamf puts this very simply when he says 'injuries relate closely to proper joint function, or more appropriately, to joint dysfunction. Problems at one joint usually show up as pain in the joint above or below'.
From this it is obvious to see how important it is to have unaffected ranges of motion at a joint and how important it is to be able to control those mobile stability areas correctly. It is also clear that mobility is a product of correct or adequate stability and you cannot have the mobility that you require unless you are first able to control it.
Training should promote the building of mobile stability and be built with exercises that incorporate movement, they should not include 'isolation' exercise such as crunches or involve static holds like planks. Instead they should incorporate exercises such as the dying bug, crawling variations, rolling patterns, breathing exercises and so on. All of these work to 'stabilise' the core while allowing movement and dissociation of the limbs which has a far greater carry over into every day life as well as performance – unless you are intending on entering the world planking championships.
Additionally check the ranges of motion available at your different joints. If you are aware that you have a restriction somewhere by using the FMS you may be able to track down an asymmetry or a compensation that previously you were unaware of of that explains your problem. The FMS uses 7 simple movements and gives you a score depending how well you do on each test. Get a training partner, go and see a professional, or film yourself and see what you score (do an internet search on FMS and you'll find all the information that you need to do it). You can then use this score as a baseline and work to improve it if it highlights areas that need work. When you perform these movements you should be able to perform them effortlessly, slowly (going fast is often a cover for being unable to control the movement properly) and breathing easily, any wobbling, breath holding, jaw clenching and so on indicates a compensation or something to be improved. Remember your body is brilliant at compensating and coping with problem up to a point, a recent study showed that individuals with decreased dorsiflexion of the ankle are far more likely to suffer an ACL rupture than those with normal ankle mobility and it is quite common to see old injuries being responsible for new pains that a person is suffering.
As always thanks for reading and all thoughts, questions, arguments etc should be forwarded to Alex who will pass them on to me. Steve.