The importance of a focused and specific mobility program in tandem with a more robust strength and conditioning program cannot be overstated. While the research supports that mobility programs alone don’t yield lower likelihood of injury, when combined with a weight training program or strength circuit the benefits far outweigh the potential downsides. That being said, it is paramount that an athlete or client understands the purpose and goal of a mobility program, so their efforts are not wasted on extraneous or superfluous movements, activities or exercises. To better understand the WHY, we must address each joints role and purpose in the larger biomechanical system. Let’s take a look at the joint by joint approach first coined by Mike Boyle and Gray Cook. This approach allows us to identify, individually, which areas must remain mobile, and conversely what areas must remain stable. But what do we mean by mobile and stable? Let’s define our terms:
A mobile joint must display flexibility and the adeptness to occupy variable ranges of motion in whichever direction is dictated by the architecture of the joint. The ankle joint is primarily a sagittal plane joint, meaning it should have adequate ability flexing and extending, or moving front to back. Meanwhile the shoulder and hip are ball and socket joints and must display a wide array of flexion, extension, internal and external rotation, abduction and adduction, etc. When we think of mobile joints, they must have the ability to occupy many different positions freely and actively.
A stable joint must display the ability to resist movement. The lumbar spine is a great example, and is the linchpin for many athletic movements. A sloppy or over mobile lumbar spine doesn’t help transmit force for any athletic or explosive overhead movements. Imagine having a loose lumbar spine for a clean and jerk. Intuitively we know this is a faulty movement pattern and should be something that gets corrected. Stable joints need to be able to resist force in a myriad of ways. Stable joints, you guessed it, remain stable.
So what must remain mobile, and what must remain stable? Thanks goodness for this handy diagram!
A focused mobility program need not worry about improving flexibility thorough the forefoot, knee, lumbar spine, shoulder blade, cervical spine, elbow and hand. Attention and effort focused on mobilizing these regions will at best yield no results, and at worst increase likelihood for dysfunction and injury.
Conversely, we must focus plenty of attention on improving flexibility at the ankle, hips, thoracic spine, glenohumeral joint and wrist. These areas must remain mobile in order for the neighboring joint to display proper stability. Many common sports related injuries, i.e., foot, knee, low back, neck and elbow pain are really the result of compensatory patterns and a neighboring joint not supplying enough appropriate flexibility to perform a movement or task appropriately. The thoracic spine is a great example, as an overly flexed or hyperkyphotic midback doesn’t allow for proper movement and alignment in it’s next door neighbors, potentially resulting in overuse injuries of the low back, shoulder or neck.
Now that we have established the WHY, the HOW becomes much less stressful and anxiety ridden. There are innumerable ways to work on improving flexibility including but not limited too:
- Static stretching
- Dynamic stretching
- Self myofascial release
- Foam roller
- Lacrosse ball
- Barbell or kettlebell mobility techniques
- Massage guns
- Manual therapy and hands on treatment provided by a licensed professional
The exact HOW matters much less as long as we’re playing in the right sandbox. Static stretching, dynamic stretching and a massage gun utilized in the correct region are all safe and appropriate ways to improve athletic performance and reduce the likelihood for stress, strain, overuse and injury. Now that you better understand the goal and intent of a mobility program, the world is your flexible oyster.
Bill Kempe, DC, ACP
Sports Therapy and Rehab Director
Airrosti Rehab Centers