All About Dynamic Joint Mobility

What is dynamic joint mobility?

by mc
, October 4th, 2010.
09_07_2254_01aDynamic Joint Mobility (DJM) is when someone actively moves
a joint through its range of motion (ROM), and where the goal is, with precise
movement practice, to improve the joints’ mobility.
DJM is not:
  • statically holding a joint in position
  • moving a joint through partial ROM
  • having the joint passively moved through its ROM by someone or something

DJM: A brief history

DJM has a long history, mainly as an integral part of martial arts practices
such as T’ai Chi, Qi Gong and Bagua zhang.
It’s even part of modern martial arts like Russian Systema, particularly the floor

Beyond bodyweight movements, there has been a resurgence of interest in
Indian clubs for upper body and shoulder rehab (see DVD in resource section
below). Club practices move body joints in multiple planes and through a full

The late 19th to early 20th century physical culture of
richer joint movement that included calisthenics, rope climbing and club
swinging waned by the mid 20th century. Exercising in gyms since then
has largely become about training in limited planes and ROM.
In the 21st century, specific joint mobility practice outside the
martial arts context via programs such as Intu-flow, Super
, Spiralflow and Z-Health have been developed. These programs are designed to
re-introduce joint mobility practice and overcome limitations of restricted gym
movements and sedentary lifestyles.

Why is dynamic joint mobility important?

Our bodies are plastic: we constantly adapt to what we do. This adaptation
shows up when we learn new physical skills and build new body tissues. The
principle applies to our brains and nervous system, too. We are “use it or lose
it” organisms.
Our design is so physically interconnected that what happens at one site
cascades to others.
For instance, if the movement in our ankle joints is restricted from normal
ROM, this can impact our gait. To make up for this restriction, our knees and/or
hips may change movement to support the missed job of the ankles. We practice
this compromised gait many times a day, causing our muscles and related tissues
to adapt to support our “special” gait.
This adaptation may have painful consequences: our knees may hurt from a walk
that moves those joints outside a normal ROM. Likewise, our hips may be pulled
out of their normal pattern emerging as low back pain.
This cascade is often why movement specialists will say “the site of pain is
not always the source of pain.” Compromised joint ROM is often seen with limited
squat depth and poor running economy.
As use-it-or-lose-it organisms, we get the body we practice

On the plus side, this means that better practice = better body.
By practicing joint mobility with intent, we re-educate and
rehabilitate our movement towards a healthier ROM.
Left: Demonstrating how to identify joint locations for a DJM movement (an
outside toe pull here).
Right: Demonstrating one way to position the foot to hit the outside toe pull properly.
Source: From R-Phase DVD.

Benefits of DJM training

Proprioception/Sensory motor benefits
Beyond the physiological benefits of moving joints
through their ROM, joint work helps us neurologically: joints are key triggers
for sensory-motor perception. We experience the world in a sensory-motor
hierarchy of visual (vision), vestibular (balance) and proprioceptive (where we
are in space) systems. Joints have a very high number of proprioceptive nerves
that tell the brain where we are in space and how fast each part of us is
Reducing injury
Studies on ankle mobility have shown that athletes
who practiced enhancing mobility/proprioception in their ankles reacted better
to simulated stumbling than those who had not. Likewise, mobility work as part
of balance and resistance training in elderly women at risk of hip fractures was
found to have a profound effect on reducing the incidence of falls.
Micro DJM
To counterbalance high repetition typing/writing,
someone can use “micro DJM”.
Typing is largely finger flexion without finger
extension. Mobility drills designed for the wrists, hands and fingers help us
get in repetitions that balance extension or flexion with up, down, side to
side, and back and forth, movements that are all part of this joint’s capacity.
These simple strategies can restore mobility around the joints and reduce the
effects of associated conditions like repetitive strain injury.
Jammed joints and reduced strength
The nervous system is designed for survival first,
not performance. If the nervous system detects a problem in its function – like
a joint that is not able to move properly – it more or less cuts down power to
the rest of the system (so the compromised component doesn’t put the system at
This shutdown is global. A jammed joint in the
foot can be seen in reduced quad muscle strength. Conversely, opening up the
jammed joint can bring the power back on line. This phenomenon was first noted
decades ago and labelled the “arthrokinetic reflex.”
Here, PN Moderator and Z-Health Master trainer Mike T Nelson demonstrates the
effect of jammed and unjammed joints on any other muscle’s performance.

How does DJM compare to…

Stretching has emerged as a dominant form of
warm-up and cool-down. If someone has restricted ROM when doing a lift, we hear
about “tight muscles” needing to be “stretched out.” We know, however, that there are times (such as before a heavy lift) when elongating
a muscle is not optimal. See more: All About Warming Up.
DJM can improve performance without the potential
negatives of static stretching. A DJM movement such as the outside toe pull (described here, shown above) can have a direct
effect on the hamstrings to increase ROM at the hip.
…foam rolling?
Foam rolling is an increasingly popular strategy to work what
is presumed to be restricted fascia, trigger points and/or again “tight”
muscles. These approaches often tend to focus on the site of the issue as the
source of the issue, without necessarily exploring why this tightness has
evolved in the first place.
By working on joint mobility across the body,
areas previously seen to be persistently tight begin to open up and,
importantly, stay open. Further, foam rolling, from the body’s perspective, is
passive – it’s an act being done to part of the body by something else – thus,
less of the nervous system is involved in the movement.

Active vs. passive body mechanics

DJM is an active model, rather than passive, meaning that the body is
actively engaged in movement and therefore firing up more neurons to learn how
to reproduce these movement patterns on its own. It’s the difference we
experience between someone putting their hands on our wrists and guiding us
through a tennis swing, for instance, and doing it ourselves.
Below: Eric Cobb demonstrates differences between active vs. passive therapy
in Essentials of Elite Performance Mini Course

Proprioception & pain

Pain is part of neurological signalling triggered by another proprioceptive
nerve, the nociceptor.
Typically, there are more mechanoreceptors (nerves that sense touch,
movement, and position) around joints than nociceptors. Mechcanoreceptive nerves
send their signals several hundred times faster than most nociceptors. This
means that proper joint movement can send a far stronger signal, faster, to the
body than a pain signal can.
To get a sense of this effect, imagine a room where
someone begins to sing God Save The Queen – if they’re the only person
singing, they can be heard quite well. In fact, if they are the only person
making a noise, it’s hard not to hear them.

Now imagine another 100 people in the room singing Oh Canada. Which
tune will someone standing on the edge of the room hear?  Of course, the song
sung by 100 people.
This overwhelming Oh Canada effect seems to be what happens to pain
when mechanorecptors fire from proper joint movement. (It also sums up the
Confederation of 1867 fairly succinctly.)
This effect contributes to why people who practice DJM report both pain
reduction and a sense of improved energy.

Summary and recommendations

1. Dynamic joint mobility is important for overall wellness and

We have seen that one jammed joint anywhere reduces the strength of the body
everywhere, but freeing this joint immediately improves performance. Our bodies
are designed to move through a large ROM and various planes of movement.
Sedentary bodies rarely experience this full ROM in all joints. Since our
bodies are designed to adapt to what we do, lack of movement can quickly develop
into movement restrictions that have associated effects on well being, from
tight muscles to arthritis.
2. This same plasticity, however, can quickly adapt to movement

A deliberately designed DJM practice has tremendous and rapid benefits for
well being, and re-educating our bodies about how our limbs are supposed to
move. Such programs can be time efficient and move each body joint through its
ROM in just 10 minutes.
A shoulder mobility sequence from Z-Health
A shoulder mobility sequence from Z-Health
3. Find a mobility coach.
Mobility practice, like any movement, requires skill development. While there
are DJM programs available on DVD, for guidance and support, a coach can ensure
quality of movement and accelerated progress (listings below).


Linked Listing for movement coaches (PN’s guidelines on how to pick
a personal trainer
apply here, too).
Cobb, E, Mauck, K, Mauck , Z-Health Neural Warm Up 1 and R-Phase Package
(DVDs and manuals). Z-Heath Performance Solutions, Arizona USA, 2006.
Cobb, E, Mauck, K, Mauck, S. The Essentials of Elite Performance (DVD
Mini-Course) Z-Heath Performance Solutions, Arizona USA, 2010.
Jones, Brett, Cook, Gray . Club Swinging Essentials (Featuring Ed
(DVD). Functional Movement, Virginia, USA, 2010


Anderson, Owen “Can proper proprioceptive training reduce your probability of
” Sports Injury Bulletin. (no date, but post 2001).
Blakeslee S & Blakeslee M. The Body Has a Mind of Its Own: How Body Maps
in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better. Random House, NY,
Baszanowski, W., ed. 8 European Weightlifter Federations: a Brief History of
Their Centenaries. Special Issue. European Weightlifter, EWF
Secretariat. 2005 (pdf).
Butler D & Moseley LG. Explain Pain. Noigroup Publications,
Australia, 2003.
Cobb, E, Pincus, R. The SPEAR System and Converting Flinch Response. Law and
Order. 2003.
Colvin, What it takes to be great, Fortune Magazine, October 19
Doige, Norman. The Brain that Changes Itself. Penguin, Middlesex, UK,
Deliagina, T. Neural Bases of Postural Control. Physiology
Frost HM. From Wolff’s law to the Utah paradigm: insights about bone
physiology and its clinical applications. Anat Rec 2001;262(4):398-419.
Karinkanta S, et al. A multi-component exercise regimen to prevent functional
decline and bone fragility in home-dwelling elderly women: randomized,
controlled trial. Osteoporos Int 2007;18(4):453-62.
Lederman, E. Neuromuscular Rehabilitation in Manual and Physical Therapies:
Principles to Practice. Churchill Livingstone, London, 2010.
McIntosh, G., Hall, H. “Low Back Pain,” Clinical Evidence, BMJ
Publishing Group Limited. Oct 2008.
Myers, T. Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement
Therapists. 2nd Ed CHURCHILL LIVINGSTON London & New York,
Ostry DJ, et al. Somatosensory plasticity and motor learning. The Journal of
neuroscience: the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience 2010;30(15):
Riemann BL, & Lephart SM. (2002) The Sensorimotor System, Part II: The
Role of Proprioception in Motor Control and Functional Joint Stability. Journal
of Athletic Training 2002;37(1):80-84.

About dkpilates

Pilates Instructor, Yoga Instructor, Personnel trainer and Group Fitness Instructor. Don teaches Contemporary and the Authentic forms of Pilates, in the later 90's, Don began his study of Yoga. His study of Yoga includes the Hatha, Iyengar, Bikram, and Astanga disciplines. His other areas of interest in fitness include Martial Arts, Spin, Boot Camp Training, and Weight Training. Don has extensive training and certifications from AFFA, IDEA, MadDog, B-Fit and Polestar. Don Continues his of Pilates education with Michelle Larson in Santa Fe New Mexico. His personal philosophy related to fitness is to aid students in a personalized balance of strength, stamina and flexibility. He is dedicated to design a program specifically for his students independent of the season of their life to create functional movement and help them reach their fitness goals.
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