My personal experience with mobility and movement

I’ve recently become interested in the concept of movement and mobility and its relationship to our health. Because I practice physical medicine, I constantly watch others move. I’m fascinated by how people develop their movement patterns and I’ve become pretty good at identifying problematic ones. When it comes to dealing with these issues in medical practice it can seem very complex because there are so many inputs. But the truth is these movement patterns are merely a summation of simple joint movements. Sure, when you take several joints and move them simultaneously, it becomes complex but a single joint has a well-defined, fairly simple movement pattern. The simple explanation is that joints bend, glide and rotate. We use other words for directional movement of joints like anterior, posterior, forward, backward, protraction and retraction, but for the most part the first three terms describe most joint movement. I want to briefly explain how I was introduced to the concept of movement and mobility over the last 18 months and maybe it will help you realize how important it is for your health.

When I was in 7th grade, my buddy Pat and I were walking to class. I’m not sure why but I thought it would be a good idea to pretend I was dying of thirst. I fell to the ground and reached out my arm and Pat yanked my arm out of joint. I felt an intense pain, heard a pop and after shedding a few tears went to my next class. Of course I didn’t go to the doctor because I was embarrassed, so I just learned to live with the pain and it never really went away.

In high school I started powerlifting and I became really strong. Some of you may remember the Bigger, Faster, Stronger weightlifting program from the 80’s. Flexibility was considered important but we had no idea back then that it did very little to help people become better movers. Anyhow, as I developed strength I learned to protect my shoulder by altering movements and limiting my range of motion, because of the pain. So I kept my shoulder close to my body and stabilized it with my core. I didn’t realize that at the time that I was only making things worse. Thirty five years later I decided to do something about the pain. I had three series of prolotherapy injections in my shoulder to stabilize the joint and reduce the pain and it was better for about 2 years. When the pain returned it was not as bad as before but the range of motion in my joint was still limited and I constantly felt the need to protect it.

For several years I have been a member of a gym called Impact Performance Training in Newberg, Oregon owned and operated by Dewey Nielsen. The gym started out as a training center for Jiu Jitsu and over the years has emphasized the importance of mobility and movement and it has attracted people of all ages who just want to move better.  In the gym, we talk about mobility and becoming a good mover before developing strength. A few years ago, Dewey introduced CARS exercises. CARS (which is short for Controlled Articular Rotations) are designed to help improve human movement by starting with simple joint rotations and progressing to more difficult movements and exercises as you develop full range of motion. When I became  aware of these exercises I brushed them off. I thought  they were too simple for me. After all, simple joint rotations were for old people who could barely move! Right? Wrong! But, I chose to continue doing the strength routine I had always done. I thought my range of motion was fine but as time went on, I observed how well Dewey moved and how limited my range of motion was in comparison. I had seen many others go through the CARS routine but most of them were going through the motions and at first glance the exercises look easy. If you do the rotations properly and work to improve end range, they become very difficult.

So I kept on with my normal routine but a few months later, I had the opportunity to attend a professional seminar called Functional Range Conditioning or FRC. In this course Andreo Spina taught the fundamentals of mobility and movement backed by science, and explained the difference between flexibility and mobility. He taught individual exercises starting with the CARS and then introduced progressively difficult exercises designed to further improve range of motion and bulletproof your body from injuries.

At the seminar we spent the first day learning  theory and the second day we learned the exercises. We went through the CARS routine and progressed through the entire range of exercises designed to improve mobility. There were about 75 therapists, docs, and trainers in the room and everyone was  struggling to get through the routines. In fact, it was one of the most challenging sessions of exercise I had ever done. Why? Because I didn’t have joints that were able to move to their full potential and I couldn’t control my joints at end-range.

From that day forward I decided to commit myself to developing adequate mobility before doing strength workouts. It took me almost a full year of doing CARS before my joints were ready. When I started the strength routines again, I couldn’t believe the difference in strength, joint mobility and my ability to move in many directions without pain or restriction! I’m almost 50 years old now but now, I move better than I did when I was in my 20’s. I also have less pain in general and the shoulder pain from 38 years ago is greatly diminished. I still have a ways to go but I can see how if I continue working it out, I will be always be able to move like a good human should. Stay tuned for another post where I will explain some of the details on why these exercises are so effective and why everyone needs to do them.


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