Joint mobility is the amount of movement that occurs within a single joint. This is not just how high you can raise your arm or how far you can bend your knee; it also is how much or how little “wiggle” there is within a joint. This “wiggle” is known as mild, moderate, or severe hypermobility (excessive movement) or hypomobility (limitation of motion, stiffness).
How does having too little joint mobility (hypomobility or stiffness) affect someone?
Limitations in joint mobility will often be seen alongside constraints in range of motion. Someone with hypomobility of their spine may not be able to rotate as far to the left or right or may not be able to bend through a normal range forwards or backward. One of the biggest complaints we hear from patients dealing with joint stiffness is having trouble going up or downstairs. Getting up and out of a chair is another daily activity that is more difficult for someone experiencing joint stiffness and lack of mobility. Joint stiffness can also make moving after being in a position for a long time more difficult.
Decreased joint mobility or increased joint stiffness can also result from other conditions. For example, arthritis occurs when there is decreased space between the joints or the thinning of cartilage around a bone. When there is decreased joint space and no cushioning, the bones get closer together, causing stiffness. It could also be a decreased height of a meniscus, decreased disc space in your spine, or degeneration of the labrum of your hip or shoulder.
If a therapist assesses decreased joint mobility, they can prescribe the appropriate joint mobilizations and stretches to address this issue and help the patient regain functional range of motion to perform their desired activity. Once increased movement is gained, then joint stability is also addressed. The patient needs to develop muscle control and joint stability through this newly gained range of motion to help prevent joint, muscle, and tendon irritation.
Physical therapy is an effective treatment method for joint stiffness. At Comprehensive Physical Therapy, we can determine the root cause of your joint stiffness and design an individualized plan of care to handle that cause. Our therapists will give you exercises and stretches tailored to improving your strength and range of motion. At CPT, we address joint stiffness with manual, hands-on treatment. Depending on your needs, this could involve some massages, modalities such as ice and heat, or moving joints in specific ways.
By: Dr. Billy Beaudreau, PT, DPT, MTC, OCS, FAAOMPT
If you are dealing with joint stiffness or having trouble determining if your stiffness is something you need to worry about, call our office TODAY at 985-272-1017 to schedule your evaluation with one of our therapists.