What is joint mobilization?
You have hundreds of joints in your body, which come in a variety of types and sizes (such as a “hinge joint” in your elbow, a “ball and socket joint” in your hip, or a “saddle joint” in your thumb). Joints, formed by the articulating surfaces of two or more bones, depend on a combination of both stability and mobility in order to help you function efficiently and comfortably. Importantly, joints are supported by a wide variety of physiological structures including capsules, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and muscle fibers, all of which can become injured and potentially benefit from physical therapy services, including a service known as joint mobilization.
Joint mobilization is a type of manual therapy performed here at our physical therapy clinic. It involves the passive movement of specific joints using the skilled application of force, direction, and technique. A physical therapist can use his or her hands to mobilize an affected joint, or may elect to use certain tools, including straps, to help deliver the desired treatment effect.
The specific type, magnitude, speed, and frequency of joint mobilization performed depends on several factors, including the goal of treatment, the type of joint being targeted, and even your own unique anatomy. The primary effects of joint mobilizations include pain reduction, improved range of motion, and improved quality of joint movement itself (known as arthrokinematics).
What conditions can benefit from joint mobilization?
Sometimes, a joint can become irritated, swollen, or misaligned as a result of injury, stress, poor posture, repetitive movement, or even as a result of age-related wear and tear. When this happens, the joint may not move correctly and become stiff and painful. Nearby structures including muscles, tendons, and ligaments may become tense or injured as a compensatory effect of trying to support or stabilize the injured joint. This can lead to muscle weakness or even impingement and damage to nearby nerves.
Joint mobilization isn’t appropriate for all patients, and our skilled and experience physical therapists can determine if it’s right for you or a loved one. Specific conditions which our physical therapy team successfully manage with joint mobilizations 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 misalignments
Joint issues are often the hidden underlying factors driving other types of injuries and ailments including muscle strains, ligament damage, and bursitis, so this is why we strongly encourage you to consult with a physical therapist with any type of acute or chronic dysfunction. Your joints could be contributing to your pain without you even realizing it!
What should I expect during a joint mobilization treatment with a physical therapist?
If you come to see a physical therapist at our clinic with acute or chronic joint pain, then you can first expect to be thoroughly examined on an initial examination. We’ll be assessing and evaluating everything from your range of motion, strength, coordination, pain level, posture, and even relative tissue tension and feel in order to help us devise an accurate diagnosis. Based on our exam findings, as well as the information we glean from questioning you about your current and past medical history, we’ll be able to devise a customized treatment plan to meet your unique needs. Since joint mobilization techniques have been shown to be effective for a variety of conditions, we very well may decide to implement this type of manual therapy in your plan of care.
To prepare for a physical therapy session with joint mobilization, be sure to wear comfortable and loose-fitting clothing. Your physical therapist will need to be able to see or at least easily palpate (feel) the specific joint he or she is mobilizing (keeping in mind of course, that your privacy and comfort is of utmost concern to our staff). Your physical therapist will be sure to offer you clear details on how to sit or lie during the session, what you should expect to feel, as well as what to do following your session in order to maximize effects and prevent recurring pain or dysfunction. To complement and optimize the effects of joint mobilizations, we’ll also instruct you in additional services which may include therapeutic exercises for strengthening and range of motion, modalities, and postural and neuromuscular retraining.