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Movement and Joint Health

Movement and Joint Health 

Our joints are designed for movement. Movement, in turn, is essential to functioning and health. So the importance of maintaining healthy joints cannot be overstated, and the best way to maintain joint health is through movement. Although the logic seems circular, these interrelationships are strongly supported by science and research.

One way to better understand the relationship between movement and joint health is to explore what happens when joints are immobilized. Most people know that one of the consequences of immobilization is muscle atrophy. But there are many other interesting consequences of immobilization. All tissues that comprise joints are adversely affected when joints stop moving. Based the Physical Stress Theory (PST), under conditions of low or no stress, all tissues will essentially respond the same way: atrophy. Research has shown over and over again that joint cartilage, for example, will undergo changes in composition and will start to deteriorate following immobilization. Other changes include: loss of bone mass, weakening of ligament attachment points, and fatty infiltration of joints. It is for all of these reasons that the trend in rehabilitative medicine is early mobilization following injury or surgery.

Movement, controlled to allow for healing of injured or compromised tissues, will reverse these negative physiological effects associated with immobilization.

An interesting phenomenon, whereby a certain segment of the population tends to react to joint injury or pain by voluntarily limiting movement, has appeared with increasing frequency in the health science literature. This phenomenon is called “fear avoidance”. Fear avoidance is considered a behavior, and has been linked to poor recovery of function following injury.

Physical therapists, as experts in movement function, are best qualified to help people with joint injury or joint pain find the right amount and type of movement to heal optimally.

Marica Miller Spoto, PT, DC, OCS

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