How to use joint-by-joint approach to exercise function, not dysfunction

Each joint has a primary need for mobility or stability in an alternating pattern.

February 8, 2018

You experience pain in the lower back, neck and shoulders, or feet and ankles. You limit your movements to avoid the pain. But there may be another answer. Your pain may stem from subtle compensation patterns that you can change.

Compensation occurs when one body part does not move well and another body part tries to help out. For example, the lumbar spine often compensates for lack of mobility at the hip joints. Compensation is common, but not helpful. In this example, it will generate lower back pain.

The joint-by-joint approach can help us identify and change these compensation patterns. Our joints need both mobility and stability. But each joint has a primary need for one or the other. Michael Boyle and Gray Cook first identified this “joint-by-joint approach” to healthy movement.

The joint-by-joint approach applies to most bodies, most of the time. It includes an alternating pattern. A joint that has a primary need for stability has a joint above it and below it that needs mobility.

For example, the vertebra in the lumbar spine need stability. The vertebra in the thoracic spine above it need mobility. The hip joint below it needs mobility.

Know the pattern and use it to exercise function instead dysfunction.

Starting from the bottom, the joint-by-joint alternating pattern looks like this:

Foot – Stability
Ankle – Mobility
Knee – Stability
Hip – Mobility
Lumbar Spine – Stability
Thoracic Spine – Mobility
Scapula – Stability
Gleno-humeral Joint – Mobililty
Lower and Middle Cervical Spine (C3-C7) – Stability
Cervical Spine Upper (C1-C2) – Mobililty

Knowing this, we can see that lumbar spine lower back pain may come from too much mobility. Even if the lower back feels tight. The lumbar spine may be trying to compensate for hip immobility. Or thoracic immobility.

The mobility-stability needs in the cervical spine are a little different. The lower and middle cervical vertebra (C3-C7) need stability. The upper cervical vertebra (C1-C2) need mobility. Any variation of the classic chin tuck demonstrates the cervical spine stability-mobility needs.

Think about the needs of each joint as you move or stabilize to help you feed your joints what they need. Support your joints to do the job they were designed to do. Exercise your function, not your dysfunction.