The musculoskeletal system is a complicated one, but you don’t need to understand everything about anatomy to understand 1 basic, common cause of joint pain.
The muscles create a complex system whose purpose is to balance a structure, the body. There are agonist and antagonist muscles balancing each joint. One muscle or group of muscles will make a joint move in one direction, another singular or group of muscles will make it go in the opposite. But what happens when those muscles either become too tense or too weak?
The important thing to keep in mind when exploring how your body operates is to think of the purpose of each joint. There’s one of two;
The joint is either meant to be mobile, or stable.
How does this look in the body?
The purpose of your joints always alternates:
Ankles = mobile
Knees = stable
Hips = mobile
Lumbar spine = stable
Thoracic spine = mobile
When the purpose of 1 joint is compromised, the body will overcompensate.
So what's an example?
One of the most common examples of this is hip tightness. Since we sit a lot as a society, it’s very common for our hip flexors to be too tight to allow for proper leg extension… but what does that mean?
When your hip flexors are too tight, your hips will be in a constant forward dipping position (anterior tilt). If the spine were to go straight out of the hips while they were in this position, your whole torso would also be leaned forward (Figure A)...but who’s going to walk around like that?
To compensate, our torso would have to lean back, which puts uneven pressure on the lumbar spine (Figure B).
So in this example, tight anterior hip muscles causes the hips (mobile joint) mobility to be limited, which forces the lumbar spine (stable joint) to become more mobile, causing pain and discomfort.
Another example brings me right back to my high school soccer days. A friend recently told me how they blew out their ACL the first time her coach taped her ankle. Why did that happen?
I can’t speak for nowadays, but when I was in high school it was incredibly common to tape up our ankles. The idea behind it was to create stability.
We should have been doing ankle strengthening exercises, but instead we relied on tape to prevent our ankles from rolling. This caused a restriction in ankle mobility, forcing the movement to go into the next joint up- the knees.
If the body is moving in a direction, say the torso is twisting while kicking a ball, the movement is going to continue regardless of proper mobility. In my friend’s case, the twist would normally have been absorbed in the rotation in her ankle. But with her ankle taped, it was forced into her knee, causing a catastrophic injury.
What does this mean for your body?
If you notice you commonly have joint pain, maybe one of the first things you should take a look at are the joints surrounding. Stiff ankles or hips may affect your low back or knees. Stiffness in your chest or upper back may cause some neck pain.
One of my favorite quotes in fitness and health is from Kevin Trudeau:
“Most people have no idea how good their body is designed to feel.”
Knowing how to target muscular imbalances and what to look for can be challenging. If you’re not sure where to begin, but know you want to begin eliminating pain, send me a message or comment below!