Joints, the points where the bones of the human body connect, are the weakest part of the skeletal system. While the bones of the skeleton itself are rigid by nature to ensure strength, the need for flexibility around the joint area means that they are more prone to damage and injury.
For a registered massage therapist, ensuring a maximum range of movement in the joints is vital to a patient’s health and wellbeing. RMTs treat joint problems using a technique called joint mobilization, a gentle movement of the restricted joint, which has proven effective in reducing discomfort and helping to restore a full range of motion.
Read on to find out more about the joint structure of the human body, and how joint mobilization is used in massage therapy to benefit patients.
Students pursuing a massage therapist diploma learn all about the composition and function of joints in the musculoskeletal anatomy course in the first year of their program. The different types of joints are classified either functionally, based on the movement they allow, or structurally, based on the material they consist of. In both cases, they fall into three distinct categories:
1. A joint which allows no movement at all, such as the sutures of the skull, is made up of tough collagen fibres and is known as a synarthrosis or fibrous joint.
2. A joint which allows slight amounts of movement, such as the intervertebral disks of the spine, is known as a cartilaginous joint or an amphiarthrosis.
3. The most common types of joints are known as synovial or diarthrosis joints, which include the most freely movable joints. In a synovial joint, a fluid-filled cavity between two bones is protected by a dense connective tissue lined with synovial membrane.
Joint mobilization is most typically applied to synovial joints, which include gliding joints, such as the carpals of the wrist, hinge joints like the elbow and knee, and ball and socket joints like the shoulder and hip.
Students in a massage therapy program are instructed to treat patients with joint mobilization issues by applying slow movements to the restricted joint, within a small, precise range of motion. These movements are classified into four grades, based on how much of the joint’s range of motion is utilized during the treatment.
Grade one and two movements typically utilize less than half of the joint play range, while grades three and four involve movements from the middle to the end of the range. Lower grade movements provide light pain relief and initiate movement, while higher grades are more pressurized and used in the case of more serious injuries and chronic joint problems.
Joint mobilization techniques include basic oscillations, traction and gliding movements. RMTs will sometimes recommend complementary stretching exercises to aid pain relief, and as a preventative measure against further injury.
Reduced joint function can occur due to injury, overuse, or simply through aging. As a result, patients from many walks of life can benefit from joint mobilization, including athletes, accident victims and the elderly. Some common complaints that can be treated using joint mobilization include:
• Back Pain
• Hip Pain
• Chronic ankle or wrist issues
• Arthritic pain
• Any reduced range of motion in the neck, shoulders or other joints in the body
As always, each patient is different, and performing a thorough assessment of their condition is required to help a therapist determine the best course of treatment.