Suffering from an injury or debilitating condition can cause pain and discomfort that last long after the initial healing process is over. Even once the bone or soft tissue has healed, moving the surrounding joints may still cause severe pain. After the healing process has seemingly been completed, joints may still be painful or difficult to manipulate. Also, it is common for joint injuries to stem from consistent overuse of a particular muscle or joint. Joint mobilizations are a manual hands-on technique that Physical Therapists will use to help facilitate the healing of this affected area.
What is a joint mobilization?
Joints in your body are formed by articulating surfaces of bones, and need both stability and mobility in order to help you function efficiently and comfortably. You’re probably familiar with joints such as a “hinge joint” in your elbow, a “ball and socket joint” in your hip, or a “saddle joint” in your thumb. Your joints are supported by numerous other structures including capsules, fascia, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and muscle fibers, all of which can become injured, need repair and thus potentially benefit from this hands-on manual therapy such as joint mobilizations.
Joint mobilizations are a manual hands-on technique intended to improve the gliding between the restricted surfaces of the joint and therefore, increase range of motion. They can also serve as an input into the nervous system to help modulate pain and reduce muscle tone. Joint mobilizations focus on the passive movement of targeted joints using the skilled application of force, direction, and applying pressure to the designated body part with various velocity patterns. Our physical therapist will use their hands to mobilize a specific joint, and or may also use certain instruments (therapeutic tools) to help perform the desired movement of your joint.
Several different factors will determine the specific type, amplitude, speed, and frequency of joint mobilization performed. We will assess the type of joint being targeted, the goal of treatment, and the anatomy of the patient. Prior to using joint mobilizations, it’s important for the physical therapist to understand the nature and impact of the injury. By performing a full-body assessment, the physical therapist can determine if joint mobilizations are safe and appropriate for you. The end result of using joint mobilizations include a reduction of pain, increased range of motion, and improved quality of joint movement itself.
What conditions can benefit from joint mobilizations ?
A joint that does not move correctly can become irritated, swollen, lack responsiveness, stiff or painful due to injury, repetitive movement, stress, posture, or simply age-related wear and tear. Nearby structures including tendons, ligaments, and muscles may also become injured as a compensatory effect in trying to stabilize the injured joint. This can produce weakened muscles or even impingement and nearby nerve aggravation. Specific conditions we effectively manage with joint mobilization physical therapy include:
- Arthritis (especially of the shoulder, spine, elbow, hip, and knee)
- Rotator cuff tears and sprains
- Adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder)
- Medial or lateral epicondylitis (golfer’s or tennis elbow, respectively)
- Ankle sprains
- Sciatica and other types of nerve impingement syndromes
- Facet joint locking and other types of spinal conditions
It’s important to be mindful that joint problems can commonly create other types of pain points including muscle strains, instability, bursitis, weakness, stiffness, to name a few.