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Stiff Joints? You Might Need Joint Mobilization

Updated August 2020

If you suffer from stiff joints, it may seem like you’ve had your freedom frozen in place. When it’s difficult to move, you might feel frustration and wonder what caused your stiff joints… and how to treat them! Joints get stiff for a number of reasons, some of which include:

  • Acute injuries/swelling (such as: ankle sprains)

  • Immobilization (such as: casts)

  • Muscular imbalances (such as: poor posture)

What are Joint Mobilizations?

Stiff joints can lead to a combination of decreased range of motion, impaired function, and pain. In order to restore movement and function the joint must be able to move freely, in all intended directions, with no restrictions. Joint mobilizations are a useful manual therapy technique that can help restore the movement of the joint as well as decrease muscle guarding/spams and pain.

Physiological effects of joint mobilization include:

  • Increased blood flow + nutrition to the joint

  • Joint lubrication

  • Increased sensory input to brain —> decreased pain

  • Reduced muscle tone

  • Stretching joint capsule

Treatment for Stiff Joints

Prior to treatment your physiotherapist will assess the joint to determine if it has:

  • Normal movement, no pain

  • Normal movement, with pain

  • Limited movement, no pain

  • Limited movement, with pain

  • Excessive movement, no pain

  • Excessive movement, with pain

Based off of the assessment, your physiotherapist will adapt the degree of joint mobilization to maximize your recovery. Once the joint mobilizations have been completed, your physiotherapist will provide you with home exercises in order to maintain the newly gained range of motion.

Note: If you have excessive movement, a joint mobilization in that direction is contraindicated. Hyper-mobile joints should be treated with strength/stabilization exercises.

An example of a commonly stiff joint is the ankle following an ankle sprain. Patients often experience restrictions in dorsiflexion, the action of pulling your foot up towards your shin. In this situation, your physiotherapist would do a joint mobilization into the direction of dorsiflexion. Following treatment, you would be provided with calf stretching + active range of motion exercises in to dorsiflexion for your home exercise program to maintain and continue to improve function.

If you’re experiencing stiffness or pain in any of your joints, call in today to book an appointment with a physiotherapist!

Jayme Gordon graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Master's degree in Physical Therapy. Prior to this she completed a Bachelor's of Science Kinesiology degree at the University of Victoria. She is a member of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association as well as the Physiotherapy Association of BC. Jayme has a passion for working with a diverse patient population ranging from athletes to community dwelling seniors. Book with Jayme today.

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