Offering Registered Massage Therapy & Yoga Therapy in Courtenay BC

Good Movement for Joint Health

Have you ever gotten in or out of your car, reached for a plate on a high shelf, or moved laundry from one machine to the next and felt... awkward?

Your joints may benefit from some TLC!

There are many aspects to good joint health, but in particular, I have seen so much soreness, fatigue, awkwardness and supposed weakness fade away when people ‘clean up’ their movements and get access to more of what each joint was designed to do. 

And I have first hand experience with this as well!

Joints that have access to good range of motion in all of their intended directions are going to have a much more fluid and effortless experience than joints that don’t.

So let’s talk about that, and I’ll share with you a bit about myself and why I’m paying extra attention to my shoulders to help me live with structural changes from an accident I had as a child.

What are Planes of Motion?

Each set of joints is designed to move in one or many planes of motion depending on the role they play in your body.

  • Flexion & extension
  • Away from the midline & towards the midline 
  • Inward rotation & outward rotation
  • Bonus: Joints like the hips and shoulders can combine all of these and make big sweeping circles called ‘Circumduction’!
If any joint’s ability to move as intended is compromised, it will begin to affect how well that joint functions in general, AND, it will begin to affect the joints surrounding it.

When limited movement is obvious...

If you consider the knee joint, the most obvious way it moves is flexion (bending) and extension (straightening). 

Everyone has an instinctual understanding of how much bending and straightening they should have, and are typically aware when they are lacking movement in these directions. 

  • If you can’t fully straighten your leg – you notice. 
  • If you can’t bend enough to do everyday things like stepping into your car – you notice.
But not all restrictions are so obvious.

When limited movement is illusive...

The hips and shoulders are great examples of joints that are really good at hiding things. 

They can move in ALL the planes, with a fair amount of range. This huge potential for movement can make it difficult to identify what or if something is limited…

Because they have so many angles they can move in, it’s easy for them to discreetly ‘borrow’ movement without you being any the wiser.

Unless you purposefully and regularly exercise in ways that put you through your full ranges of motion, it’s very common to never tap in to your body’s full movement potential. If you never try to go that far in a controlled and isolated way, you likely won’t realize something is missing!

Not only that, it’s extremely common for people to get sucked into the day to day flow of their work and hobbies and ‘live’ in certain positions or movement patterns way more than others – so it may not even occur to you that you may be lacking some range.

  • Consider this; our worlds exist in front of us… How often are you manipulating or working on something that involves having your hands behind your body rather than out front?

Why is this important, and what does it mean?

When a person comes to me with knee or lower back pain, I generally start by looking at their hip mobility. It’s not uncommon for the hips to be restricted in some way and for the lower back and/or knee to ‘pick up the slack’.

You can read about how the pain (symptom) isn’t always where the problem is HERE.

Let’s just say, it can be a very humbling experience for people to learn what their true hip mobility is!

The good thing is, as their hips begin to move in a more efficient, coordinated and intentional way, most people find that the symptoms in their backs or knees start to change. 

Improving their hip mobility may not be the only part of what’s causing their symptoms, but it can be a surprisingly big player. 

The thing is, our joints were designed to have access to certain planes of motion for a reason…

When you rely on the same few all the time and don’t use others, little things have a way of building up to bigger things… Injury!

Joints have the best chance at optimal health when they have access to all their intended ways of moving. 

Options, people, options! Our bodies like variety!

What about when a joint HAS to move differently because of a permanent change in your body? Story time!

When I broke my left arm as a kid, it didn’t heal properly. 

If you imagine a person standing, arms hanging by their sides with their palms facing forward, both forearms and hands would angle away from the legs. 

Well, when I do this, my left hand angles IN toward my thigh.

This means that:

  • When I’m carrying groceries, I have to hold my entire arm away from my body from up at my shoulder, to clear my leg.
  • When I have my left and right hands planted on the same surface, in order for my hands to appear symmetrical, my shoulder has to do a funky accommodation to allow that angle.
  • If my shoulders move the same with a free weight in each hand, my hands and the weights wind up in drastically different places once I have my elbows straightened.
….And so much more…
Essentially, there are many times where my shoulder has to rest in a particular position, or move through a different plane in order to accommodate my funky arm. If I’m not aware, my shoulder could get so entrenched in this way of functioning that I kind of lose some of its original, natural abilities – which would NOT be good for the overall health of my shoulder.

If you watch this video, you can see how my arms position themselves at my side, and if you watch closely, you can see how my shoulder is more ‘open’ or ‘outward’ away from the midline of my body a lot of the time in order for my left hand to mimic my right.

I can’t change the fact that my shoulder will have to do weird things to accommodate my hands, and vice versa. But I also want to avoid an injury in my left shoulder from developing. 

Permanent physical changes in the body can make moving well and preventing injury a very frustrating thing for people.

There's a feeling of hopelessness and limited options... Sometimes, the things others would do just aren't going to work.

This is why I have been intentionally working on finding ways to move and exercise where my left hand is free to wind up wherever it needs to in order to allow my shoulder to move in it’s naturally intended ways.

I use a mirror or record myself with my phone so I can watch the play back – focusing in on what my shoulder joint looks like. Does it match what my right side is doing? It’s like I pretend the rest of my arm isn’t even there so that I can really zone in on my shoulder. 

I want to make sure that my left shoulder has access to all of its proper planes of movement and has good range, even if that’s not where it’s always ‘living’.

Having access to good movement creates stability, strength and adaptability.

By ensuring that my shoulder CAN move properly, I’m ensuring it’s healthy enough to do the weird stuff my elbow demands of it without having a conniption fit.

  • Sometimes, I let my shoulder do the weird thing so that my hands wind up in the same place. 
  • Other times, I challenge myself to match my shoulders and let the rest of my arm do whatever it’s going to do.
All that is to say that becoming aware of and working on your ability to move your joints well in all their intended directions of movement is a very worthwhile thing to do.

If you would like to take care of your joints and move better

I can offer you the guidance, support, the second set of eyes and the know how to help you:

  • Move with more ease, efficiency and comfort.
  • Have a fuller recovery from injury or surgery.
  • Have a better chance at preventing injury and possibly even the need for surgery.
  • Maintain as much health and function as possible while maneuvering around something you CAN’T change.

This blog entry was written by Heather and is based on what she has seen resonate with, and work for her clientele for over a decade. She is a career student who keeps her massage and yoga therapy training current, and does her best to keep up with the newest research and evidence.

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