Simple Way to Improve Joint Health

Mad finger joints 

Before I unleash this monster of a post to your eyeballs: I am experimenting a new posting schedule. I’ll try to make every second post a more technical, relevant to what I am studying yadi yadi yadi stuff. That being said, if you bear reading through them you will get value out of of each one.

If you feel like a certain post is not for you, come back for the next one and hopefully it is something that cranks your camel, humps your tractor and oils your iPad.

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One thing I’ve experimented more since doing the Functional Range Conditioning (FRC, from now on) course last month is, wait for it, this is going to be amazing…. joint circles. Now, I am sure you were waiting for something revolutionary and mind blowing, but let me explain the why and how behind doing joint circles, or as FRC calls them “controlled articular rotations”, or CARS for short.

CAR is an active rotational movement at the outer range of the joint. They differ from typical joint circles you see in retirement villages in that they are done by locking the rest of the body in place and moving only, and only from the joint that you want to move while applying tension.

 

Why CARS

First, doing CARS will tell you which joint you need work on (if any) to move better.

For keeping this simple let’s say that you want to do shoulder CARS. As you can see in the video I am locked in place and except for glenohumeral joint, the rest of my body is still. If I struggle to bring my arm past my ear, or I can only do it while bending my elbow or by bringing my head forward, I have a mobility problem in the shoulder joint that I need to address.

Now, I depending on what’s going on in the shoulder I might need some intervention, done by me if I am lucky, or by a manual therapist if the problem requires manual techniques and skills. If it’s beyond manual therapist it could mean a surgery, or it could mean that it’s beyond repair. Who knows. But I don’t want to go all morbid on you, all I am saying is that there are different reasons for different issues.

If you take nothing else from the above paragraph, at least take this:

If the joint doesn’t move properly you know that you need to address it or you need to modify your training to stay out of the range you don’t have/can’t control. 

Why does any of this matter?

Because if your shoulder doesn’t move like a human shoulder should move and you can’t control it without holding external resistance, what do you think will happen to your shoulder in the long-term if you keep forcing into unstable/mobile ranges? It’s either the shoulder joint or other joints that have to compensate because of your shitty shoulder. Either way,  somethings gotta give.

As an example, I’ve had shoulder issues in the past and they’ve caused me some upper back shittyness and what not because I did what I should’ve not done although I knew that I shouldn’t do it  (still with me?) until I improved the shoulder. Instead of addressing the shoulder I kept at it because of my ego told me to do so (how’s that for not taking responsibility for my actions?) Because overhead press, that’s why.

 

Second, CARS will maintain the range of motion in the joint and help joint health and longevity.

The collection of cells in your body gets replaced over time. The language of cells is force and you apply it through movement, signalling the body where the new cells need to be laid. Your body will remove cells from where they are not needed and add more to where they are required. So, if over time you are not taking your joints through a certain ranges of motion the body will stop adding cells to those ranges, which leads to loss in range of motion. Think what happens to an injured limb when it’s kept in a sling for a long period of time.

In other words, you speak to your cells and tell them what you want them to do. If you are mute, meaning you don’t speak movement to your cells (because they only understand force), they have no fucking idea what to do. Cells be all like “I dunno” and do whatever, lay tissue haphazardly to random places. It’s like you hire a guy to paint your house, ask him to show up at 8am, and leave him to his own devices with no instructions. Then you show up 10 hours later and your neighbor has gotten pink walls and orange carpet.

Also worth noting is that cartilage in joints doesn’t have it’s own blood supply but that it receives oxygen and nutrition from the surrounding joint by diffusion. Simply said, movement pressure takes fluid and nasty stuff out of the cartilage. When the pressure is relieved fluid goes back in with oxygen and all the good junk that makes the cartilage go apeshit, in a good way. Hence the reason why your body produces the “happy feelings” when you move, it wants to encourage movement because it’s good for the joints. 

So, with clear instructions you can morph your cells and body over time by talking to it using movement and force. Same way as you would be when getting yoked lifting weights.

 

There’s more to poor joints than old age and lack of fish oil

People think that age takes away the ranges of motion. Yes, there is change in the tissue over time, but it is mostly because we stop using certain ranges for 20 years. Because life, family, job, and that damn BMW SUV that never requires you to squat down, whatever. Then we wonder why we don’t have the same ranges of motion we had 20 years ago.

Squat is a great example, if your never squat deep, the joints will take away take range you once had because it deems it unnecessary.

As you’ve been doing CARS your mechanoreceptors (the sense organs that respond to mechanical stimuli) in the joint are all activated and you have a better control of the joint at the outer ranges. So that if you have to go to those ranges, for whatever reason, such as scissor kicking a shark, your body knows how to control those ranges. That’s resiliency at it’s best. Ask any shark that’s been scissor kicked in the face and they’ll tell you the same.

I’ve been doing CARS every morning lately, and I recommend you do the same. Keep the range what you have by giving your tissues the stimulus to do so. And you do not have to have the full range of motion to do CARS, just do what your body allows you to do, and don’t do CARS into pain.

 

Why at the outer ranges?

Because it allows you to access all of the mechanoreceptors in the joint.

 

Why active instead of loose helicopters movements from the retirement village joint circle championships (or RVJCC)?

We want the movement to be active because doing it passively or without tension won’t access those same mechanoreceptors. There can be value in doing passive foam rolling and other “mobility” exercises but eventually you will have to be able to actively work in that range. Otherwise you’ll have false mobility, meaning that you cannot control the range that you have. All show and no go.

 

How to do CARS

And now, the morning routine I do each morning (and stole from FRC). I’ve left out patella. Ran out of storage in the phone. But not really. Also, don’t let my facial expressions in the neck part throw you off, I can’t help it.

 

The Procedure

  1. Trap the air at the lower abdominal and brace, breath shallow. Create about 10-20% of the maximal tension you can and move through the ranges, one single joint at a time.
  1. Stabilize other joints.
  1. Slowly rotate at the outer range.
  1. Try to expand each rep.
  1. For capsular CARS hold the end range as long as possible. (especially if you’ve just gained new range of motion and need to “own it”, meaning you want to have control of that range)

I also do something similar for warm ups by bringing the tension closer to 80% or even 100%. Obviously I don’t want to pop a brain vessel doing the same thing fresh out of bed wearing my pajamas.

If you do higher tension CARS, bring up your core temperature first. Even He-Man can’t go zero to a hundred in a millisecond.

Now, go make non-retirement-village-circles.

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