Stabilize to Combat Stiffness

By Jim Heatherman, DC

F.I.T. Muscle & Joint Clinic

As a chiropractor and manual therapist, my main focus is to improve function, quality of life, and  to manage and abolish pain.  Joints that move too much, and joints that move too little are often the culprits of musculoskeletal aches and pains.  Throughout our daily lives, we often sit in the same postures, or repeat the same motions over and over whether it is at work or at home.

There are many times that a stiff joint just needs to be mobilized and we are able to restore function quite quickly, however, just because something is tight, doesn’t mean we need to mobilize it.

There are many reasons why stretching is such a controversial topic, but it seems to be the “go to” when we feel tight or have limited mobility.  It goes to logic that when you feel “stiff” or “tight” that you should stretch, and patients often report that they always feel stiff regardless of how much they stretch.  This is an important piece of information in the case history. Stretching isn’t what they need!  They do not “loosen up” because the area they are stretching is likely their body’s last ditch effort at some sort of stabilization.  Simple activation of the deep stabilizing musculature can improve mobility and result in less stiffness.  When we lack proper stability, our body often compensates by essentially increasing tension in all the musculature around the affected joint or region, therefore causing that feeling of stiffness or decreased mobility.

This is something I see everyday, our bodies are made to move, but if we have a poor foundation in basic stabilizing functions, we are unable to move freely.  Our bodies are amazing at compensation and when we have a dysfunctional link in our biomechanics, we often develop abnormal movement patterns.  These abnormal movement patterns often lead to areas of constant stress or tension, eventually transforming into overuse injuries after a period of time.  When we develop these injuries, we must determine whether it is a mobility problem, a stability problem, or both before taking action to correct it!

If you are having aches and pains that aren’t responding to stretching or mobility work, consider that it may not be what you need.


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Jim Heatherman is a chiropractor, manual therapist, and rehab specialist at F.I.T. Muscle & Joint Clinic and is passionate about helping his patients stay active and healthy.  He is a 2013 graduate of Cleveland Chiropractic College and 2006 graduate of the University of Kansas.