Get moving. You don’t need fancy techniques or exercise videos, and there’s no deep philosophical or spiritual message involved. Mobility exercise is cheap, simple and the most basic therapeutic exercise you can get.
This is the message of Paul Ingraham, internationally respected science writer and self-proclaimed ‘overqualified’ ex-massage therapist from Vancouver, Canada. He’s not the only one to spread the message. Many in the physical therapy community are also singing superlatives on what’s also known as the trendy term “dynamic joint mobility drills” – essentially the same thing as mobility exercise.
Mobility exercise is about moving your body parts to regain function or reduce pain.
Massage therapists see a lot of clients in pain. For many, it’s a reason for booking a massage session. The good news is that, along with receiving regular massage, many of these clients may improve their condition by doing mobility exercises. Mobilisation doesn’t take the place of massage, but teaching your clients how to do mobility exercises is a highly recommended form of homework you can prescribe if you want to see your patients improve.
Mobilising joints or muscles gently and rhythmically warms the body up, relieving tension in knots, improving circulation and facilitating healing. As Ingraham reminds us, “motion is lotion”.
Motion is lotion – the exercise benefits of mobilising
Mobilisation can benefit so many clients:
- the injured
- those healing post-surgery
- those requiring injury prevention
- chronic pain syndrome sufferers with conditions such as myofascial pain syndrome or fibromyalgia
- inactive individuals who are too unfit to join the gym or do other exercise programs
In the medical community, the concept of early rehabilitation and movement continues to take hold. In some cases, natural day to day movement is enough and no specific mobility exercises are required. For example, some surgeons are no longer putting fractured limbs in casts (if they can avoid it); many back pain sufferers are told to stay active, rather than the previously prescribed “bedrest”; whiplash patients are placed in collars less frequently; and Achilles tendon ruptures have been proven to heal faster if the patient is encouraged to mobilise the injury soon after surgery.
How to perform mobilisation exercise
Mobility exercises are generally fairly relaxed. The most important factor, though, of course, is movement. You need to move to get the exercise benefits. Keep in mind the following points:
- use lots of repetition
- go through the full range of movement of the joint/joints
- both contract and lengthen the muscles
- make the movement easy and painless
First, go to the area that is painful. Explore the range of movement that you’re comfortable with, moving back and forth, noticing the muscles that contract. See how far you can go without strain or pain. Think of your bones “stirring” your muscles. Repeat the movement again and again.
Remember, repetition is far more important than intensity with therapeutic exercise. With repetition, you are sending new messages to your brain, and after some persistence, it will get the message that this movement is safe. After doing this for a while, it’s likely you’ll find that your pain will decrease or disappear.
If you find a nice, “feel-good movement” you can repeat it anything from 25 to 75 times, up to three times a day. Again, repetition is important as you need to teach your brain that it’s okay to move through the nominated range of movement and there is no pain in doing so. This is how you can break down – or rewire – the pain barrier.
Caution: not all injuries benefit from mobility exercise. For example, new research has revealed that severe ankle sprains should not be mobilised. The (short) reason is that unstable soft tissue should not be challenged. It needs time to knit and strengthen.
Difficult, in between cases
Clients don’t always fit the model of either totally well or acutely injured. For some of these individuals, mobility exercises will be too much, while doing nothing will only compound the issue. For example, some people with mysterious and chronic pain syndromes, stiffness that immobilises them and conditions like arthritis should all be treated with caution. Work together with these clients and let them self-assess to see what, if any, mobility exercises will help them between massage sessions.
Listen to your body
Soft, fluid, repetitive mobility exercises can do wonderful things for the body, getting it loosened up and moving again, even when all hope has gone. But remember common sense. If anything feels strange, too painful, too tight or just somehow wrong for your client, tell them not to do it. Mobilisation is not right for every body and everything. And of course, if you or your client has a serious physical condition, make sure they receive appropriate medical attention.
Sage Institute of Massage – is more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.
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