What is joint mobility?
Joint mobility is the combination of flexibility and strength. Mobility is not only about our range of motion, measure of our muscle length, that is more about flexibility. Mobility also includes how much strength and control our joints and muscles have, and how that affects our performance in running or other sports, even in everyday life activities. Mobility combines our useable flexibility with other physical attributes such as core strength and coordination. As human beings, we are naturally designed to perform a wide variety of movement patterns like hanging, crawling, squatting, lifting and throwing. If we can add these movements to our everyday life, that will help to increase our mobility and flexibility.
Flexibility: The range of motion at a joint, and the ability of your muscles to lengthen and stretch.
Mobility: The useable range of motion at a joint, and the degree of control or strength in specific positions and movement patterns.
Benefits of having more joint mobility for runners:
- Enhanced performance: As a runner, having a better joint mobility can increase your performance.
- Ankle mobility can improve the ability to support the landing form and strength, supporting the running form especially running on the trail and uneven terrains, when we need more ankle mobility and strength to avoid injuries, like ankle sprains.
- Hip mobility can improve your running stride and gait patterns, making you a more efficient runner (using less effort to run the same pace and distance).
- Shoulder mobility can help improve our running form by not causing neck and back tightness, again having more shoulder mobility, better arm swing can improve your running form and performance.
- Reduce the risk of injuries: Having more mobility, you will see improvement in your positioning and joint function, which will reduce muscular imbalances and the risk of injuries. Developing mobility gives us more strength and control through a wider range of motion. It can save us from intense injuries. For example, twisting your ankle during a trail run may not result in a bad injury if you have been increasing the ankle mobility, flexibility and strength. This will provide you with the sensitivity and control needed to make those micro adjustments when these accidents happen. On the other hand, if your ankle is lacking mobility, is more stiff, weak and fragile, the difference will be a severe ankle sprain compared to a light ankle roll.
- More freedom of movement- Less pain: Mobility can reduce pain by increasing the freedom of movement. During long runs or high-speed training, the reason we get muscle or joint pain is due to the lack of mobility and flexibility. There are several nerve receptors concentrated around your joints, designed to detect changes in positioning, if something isn’t aligned or moving well, your body will let you know. This could result in lower back pain or sharp knee pain. Once we restore our normal range of motion with mobility training, muscle and joint pain symptoms will decrease.
How to improve joint mobility:
- Muscle release- Once you identify your muscle restrictions and imbalances, you can start to release tension in any type of muscles and connective tissues associated with it.
- Start by doing some soft tissue work using a foam roller or various balls to apply pressure in the specific area. For example, to improve your ankle mobility, foam rolling the calves and putting pressure in tight areas will help increase the mobility and flexibility.
- Do specific stretches. Performing stretches regularly combined with deep breathing will help to create space in a particular direction, increasing the flexibility and mobility. Again, for ankle mobility, calf stretches will be beneficial.
- Muscle strength- Once the tension is released and more space is available, you can start working on strengthening the muscles, improving your position and movement circulation.
- Controlled joint articulation: Work on improving the range of motion in a slow controlled manner. For hip mobility, stand on one leg and lift your other knee up to your chest as far as possible, then rotate your knee out to the side. Repeat on the other side.
- Contract-relax stretching: Contract a muscle group during a stretch. For example, when stretching your hamstring in a seated position, contract the leg into the ground for a few seconds and release, repeat 3-5 times. This type of stretching signals the nervous system that you have strength in that position, which allows you to relax and stretch a little deeper.
- Build up weak muscles: Having specific weak muscles can also affect the mobility and flexibility of the joints and other muscles. For example, glute muscles support the pelvis and lower back, having weak glutes can stiffen the joints and other muscles. Perform bridge exercises for 1 min, repeat 3 times. Using a resistance band can improve the efficiency of this exercise as well as lateral walking squats.
By increasing your mobility and flexibility will help improve your running form, your strength and core training posture, form and power. We have to remember that all our muscles are connected. Tight shoulders can be linked to the lower back stiffness, then to hip tightness, then IT band, knee, Achilles, ankles etc. Increase your mobility and flexibility and feel better from head to toe.