by Dr. Shawn Halliday
What is mobility? Mobility is a term that gets thrown around a lot in the health and fitness community. Mobility is defined by Webster as “the quality or state of being mobile or moveable.” So how does this relate to health and fitness? I would guess that most medical or fitness professionals have similar definitions that might vary slightly from person to person. So I will only speak for myself and give you my definition of mobility. Mobility is the capacity for all of your joints to move through their full range of motion. So what does that mean? Every joint in our body has a potential to move through various planes and to various degrees. If you were to do a google search of ankle range of motion (ROM) you find that the ankle has 4 ranges of motion being dorsiflexion, plantarflexion, inversion and eversion. You would also see some degrees listed next to those motions stating how much of each of those motions there should be. So ROM is how far a joint can move in a given direction. Mobility then, is when we take every ROM of the joint and look at the total movement there is within a joint.
If we refer back to our google search on range of motion of the ankle we would find that there should be 20 degrees of dorsiflexion, 50 degrees of plantarflexion, 30 degrees of inversion, and 20 degrees of eversion. There might be some degree of variability depending on the search results, but most places will get you into the ballpark. These degrees listed are what is required for a person to do the most common daily activities like walking and getting in and out of a chair. If you are exercising or participating in sports the mobility requirements are even greater. So what happens if we don’t have the required mobility? The answer is that we compensate at other joints to make up for the range of motion we don’t have. This has the potential to put increased strain on our other joints that are compensating for lack of mobility elsewhere. This is pretty common in how reduced ankle mobility can cause knee pain and how reduced hip mobility can cause low back pain.
So what causes reduced mobility? The answer is that if you don’t use it you lose it. Our body, our nervous system particularly, is amazing at conserving energy and protecting itself. Our lives have become very sedentary and this lack of movement results in us spending less time at greater ranges of motion. Our bodies become unfamiliar with these ranges of motion, and unfamiliar means unsafe to the nervous system. So to protect ourselves the body tightens up. If you have ever jammed your finger you know this because afterwards the finger is difficult and painful to move. This is our body protecting the area so it can repair itself and prevent further injury. To make things more complicated, tighter muscles one one side of a joint will result in muscles lengthening on the other side of it. When muscles lengthen too much they can’t generate as much force and become weaker. To make matters even worse, this imbalance between opposing muscles may cause the bones of joints to move out of proper alignment, and when they are out of alignment this reduces range of motion even more. So all of this lack of movement results in muscles that can’t lengthen, joints that don’t move well in relation to one another, and weakness and instability with the other muscles of the joint
While this may sound daunting this is actually straightforward on how to correct. Just 10 minutes a day spent stretching, foam rolling, mobilizing, and exercising can turn the tide and regain the mobility you have lost as well ease the aches and pain that you are experiencing. There are on our website that go over the major joints of the body and the most common mobility restrictions seen, as well as the tools to assess and correct these restrictions.