• Jon Reid

Kinky Chain Pain


Your body is a big long chain and the functioning of one part of the chain has a direct affect on the rest of it.


At certain points along the chain you have joints (ankles, knees, hips etc.) that require both mobility and stability. Each one of these joints has a greater requirement for either mobility or stability, and a lack thereof can result in referred pain further up or down your chain.


For example, if you have poor ankle mobility (an inability to move your ankle freely through a full range of motion), this often leads to pain in the knee, not the ankle.


So why, when it’s the ankle that lacks mobility, does the knee suffer?

Pain in one joint is often caused by a loss of (or poor) functioning of the joint above or below it.


If a joint that has a greater requirement for mobility lacks mobility, then other joints (which want to be stable) will start to compensate by sacrificing stability for mobility. Thus, joints that are supposed to be stable start moving around and the whole chain is out of sync.


This places you in poor positions, results in bad movement patterns and takes you on a trip to pain boulevard (a much less popular destination than Sunset Boulevard).


It's therefore important that joints which are designed to be mobile, are mobile, and joints that are designed for stability, are stable. Otherwise you’ll set off a chain reaction of immobility and instability.


One kink... Next stop: Pain Boulevard

Imagine you are squatting, a movement that requires mobile ankles, stable knees, mobile hips and a stable lower back, but you are squatting with a really stiff ankle...


Your ankle is stiff and so doesn't have the mobility it needs to do it's job properly — it can’t dorsiflex (toes brought closer to the shin) to the degree it is required to, and so your body has to find this missing mobility somewhere else...


Your knee (which has a greater requirement for stability) is determined for you to squat. It sees the ankle’s mobility problem and (because it’s a team player) tries to cover for the ankle’s poor mobility by compensating. If your ankle can’t move, then your knee will...


So, your knee loses its stability and moves in to an unstable position (collapses inwards) which is not a good thing to have happen once, let alone repeatedly...


Repeat this cycle over and over again (every time you squat) and a lengthy trip down pain boulevard will lead to a Facebook check in at the physiotherapist.


Every move you make, every step you take, every breath you...

If your ankle mobility is limited it's not just squatting that will bring about a repeated cycle of compromised positions. Other movements that require ankle mobility will be covered by your knee collapsing and will ultimately place your knee in an unstable position.


Your ankle is required for walking, running, standing… pretty much every step you take and every move you make. You might not notice anything wrong immediately, as your body is pretty good at covering for itself, but one day you'll have used up all of your body’s reserves, and that's when the knee will 'ping'.


Moving along the chain…

When your immobile ankle causes your knee to become unstable, your hips (which are supposed to be mobile) tighten up to help stabilize...

Tight hips lead to unwanted movement (flexion and/or extension) in your lower back (which is supposed to be stable) which results in more pain, which leads to 'Can you take a look at my back whilst I’m here, it’s sore all the time as well…’


How do joints become immobile and unstable?

  • Sitting down for hours on end.

  • Moving with bad mechanics.

  • Not moving at all.

  • Embedding poor, hunched over posture.

  • Duck walking/running (walking/running with toes pointed way out to the side)

What can I do to become more mobile and stable?

  • Move with good mechanics — make sure you are exercising with good technique.

  • Learn how to create stability when performing basic movements in and out of the gym.

  • Mobilize, daily — keep the areas that are supposed to be mobile (such as your hips and ankles) mobile by regularly moving them through full ranges of motion.

  • Walk with straight feet — this will help prevent you loading your ankles, knees and hips incorrectly on a daily basis.

Summary

Spend time taking care of your chain. Pay attention to exercise technique, the way you are moving and the positions you adopt daily. Incorporate some form of mobility training such as foam rolling or lifting weights through a full range of motion in to your weekly routine to help keep the joints mobile and stable.

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©2020 by Jonathon Reid