If you’re an active individual, you’ve likely had an acute injury at some point in your life. A common way of diagnosing these injuries is to pinpoint the exact area where pain occurs and assume that it is responsible for the issue. Seems like common sense, right? Think again.
It is essential to understand that all bones, joints, tendons, muscles, and connective tissue work in conjunction with one another to execute healthy movement patterns. Therefore an injury or pain associated with an injury can cause an issue somewhere else along the kinetic chain. Damaging one area of the body carries repercussions to the surrounding areas and can even affect gross movement patterns. More on this later.
Before we discuss flexibility, mobility, and stability in concern to injuries any further, I must profess that I am not a doctor nor a physiotherapist; therefore, I do not intend to diagnose any of your medical issues here, nor should you. If you believe you have an injury, please seek professional help.
We must understand the terms flexibility, mobility, and stability to understand better how the body is affected when one joint is injured or compromised and how it will affect another.
Flexibility is the complete range of motion in a joint or group of joints, as well as the length of muscle crossing that area. Flexibility is essential because we must possess enough to execute movements in both activities of daily living and athletics.
Mobility is often confused with flexibility. However, there is a clear delineation between the two. Joint mobility refers to an articulation (the area where two bones meet) and the degree to which movement occurs without restriction. These restrictions can include muscles, ligaments, tendons, and other surrounding tissues. Mobility denotes the ability to move well with coordination and a lack of restriction, whereas flexibility does not represent one’s ability to move with strength, coordination, and balance.
Stability is the ability to maintain control of joint movement or positioning. Surrounding tissues of a joint and the neuromuscular system work together to create stability. Many people think of this when also referring to ‘balance’ or the ability to coordinate themselves through movement.
Once you’ve a firm grasp of these definitions, it becomes relatively easy to understand how flexibility, mobility, and stability work together.
Gray Cook, the founder of Functional Movement Systems, has “The Joint by Joint Approach.” This phenomenon is simply a table displaying an anatomical skeleton with each joint circled, then labeled, including their function. The best part is there are only two labels, mobility, and stability. The ankle, hip, and thoracic spine represent mobility, whereas the knee, lumbar spine, and cervical spine represent stability. There are more joints in the body to consider, such as the elbow and wrist. Cook demonstrates that the body alternates between stability and mobility from head to toe.
One can use Cook’s joint by joint approach to analyze what happens when an injury occurs and gain a greater understanding of its repercussions on the rest of the body. For example, a common injury such as rolling the ankle. This mobile joint quickly becomes immobile, putting a massive amount of stress on the knee and making what is usually a stable joint possibly unstable. If the ankle is treated and allowed to heal, it should be relatively easy to return to activity, right? On the contrary, simply fixing the broken part (in this case the ankle) will not magically fix the issue.
Depending on the severity of the injury, rolling an ankle can require reduced loading or weight bearing on that particular leg for a certain period of time. This means that the knee and hip become more sedentary in that time, ultimately causing a loss of mobility/stability in each joint, respectively. The gait with which the person was running or walking before they rolled their ankle simply does not return to normal if all joints are not taken care of. This could be equated to fixing a flat tire but not checking the rims themselves for damage too. A lot of things make the wheels go round’, and the same goes for our bodies.
In summary, the human body is a complex unit that requires all of its moving pieces to work in unison for optimal functionality. This article provides an elementary understanding of what is known as the kinetic chain and how flexibility, mobility, and stability each play a critical role in movement. Assuming one joint is to blame for a host of issues in the body is a dangerous oversimplification; therefore, we should all take a comprehensive and global approach to our analysis of how we move and the injuries we incur. Stay mobile, stay flexible, stay stable, and stay healthy!