Where’s the Manual – Part 3

Joints

Photographer Gabor Granat from freeimages.com

Photographer Gabor Granat from freeimages.com

Last time I explained some of the techniques for moving the bones of the body to improve the mechanical function of a person. This post is about techniques that focus on the joints, the interface between bones. The position of joints and the forces on them are a major component of determining how we can move. For example, if you have one stiff joint, say your ankle or knee, then in order to walk you have to make adjustments through the entire body. You limp. So addressing how the joints are aligned, moving or the tension on them can be a very effective way to address many movement problems.

Joints have a lot of sensors in them to tell the nervous system what is going on – how much pressure at the joint, how stretched are the ligaments, is the compression rising or decreasing and many other things. Many of the techniques that treat the joints are aimed at taking advantage of changing the output from these sensors so the body can make a larger change. Specific joint techniques include Ortho-Bionomy and Positional Release and mobilization. Plyometric training and vibrational plates are things people may do themselves that take advantage of joint movement.

Ortho-Bionomy and Positional Release are methods of determining and changing the resting position of joints to relieve the overall strain in the body. The practitioner will gently move one or several joints at a time testing to find optimal release and then keep the client there for a short time, usually 30-90 seconds, until the overall effect has been achieved. This is repeated for various joints in the body until the problem has been solved. The specific tests, treatment positions and order of treatment differ in these techniques but overall this is how they are applied.

Mobilization is much as described in the last post, the practitioner grabs a bone and slides it in the joint. The difference is one of focus, in this case the practitioner is looking to use the bone as a lever to stretch the ligaments and other structures around the joint so there is more freedom in it. This can be very effective for things like a frozen shoulder or a tight hip but it does make the joint ache for a while afterwards if done correctly.

Plyometric training is strength training that makes a client do rapid, repeated movement at a joint in alternating directions. Think of hitting a tennis ball with a racquet – first your shoulder joint has to move back as it meets the force of the oncoming ball then it has to push forward to hit the ball back. This back and forth force training strengthens the structures of the joint, neural control of the muscles around the joint and balance and coordination of the rest of the body to keep the joint in the right place in space. It is an important part of rehabilitation after joint surgery.

Vibrational plates have gained popularity recently as a way to improve strength and function by vibrating the body and challenging the sensors in the joints and affecting the endocrine system. The jury is decidedly out on whether they help in a significant and lasting manner but the reasoning behind them has some validity. They do feel interesting and may show value yet, but how best to apply them to training is far from clear at this point. And the machines are very expensive.  Workplace studies have long recognized that excessive vibration of the body at certain frequencies and amplitude is hazardous to long term health but manufacturers generally design their machines to avoid frequencies and amplitudes we know are harmful.