Equestrians & The Mobility-Stability Continuum

Are you struggling with hypermobility or stiffness? When your joints aren’t able to support you, your performance can drop significantly and you and your horse suffer as a result. Read this blog to find out where your joints fall on the mobility-stability continuum and how a Doctor of Physical Therapy can help. 

#equestrian #physicaltherapyforequestrians #equineperformance

As equestrians, we use every muscle and joint in our body every time we ride. When your joints aren’t able to support you, your performance can drop significantly and you and your horse suffer as a result. 

Each of the joints in the human body fall somewhere along the mobility-stability continuum. This range of motion defines whether or not a particular joint is supposed to produce or resist motion. When a joint is too stable or mobile, we run the risk of injuries and poor performance. A licensed physical therapist can evaluate your biomechanics and help prevent injuries related to joint stiffness or hypermobility.

Mobility and Stability Defined

Here’s a simple way to think of mobility and stability in joints: mobile joints produce desired movements; stable joints resist undesired movements.

Stable joints are able to resist movement via a combination of joint architecture, ligaments, and the joint capsule, as well as active modes of resistance which include muscle strength and motor control. Mobile joints produce movement via joint architecture, the pull of ligaments and tendons, muscle strength, and the neural impulses that activate surrounding muscles.

Each individual joint falls somewhere on the continuum between more stable and more mobile. For example, hips are extremely mobile joints, despite their capacity as a weight-bearing structure. These joints move on three planes: sagittal, coronal and transverse planes (forward/backward, up/down, rotational). The hip joint involves the femur and the pelvis. The round ball-like head of the femur sits in a socket in the pelvis. This “ball-and-socket” structure allows for mobility, while still providing a stable weight-bearing structure. 

Moving outward from the hips, the joints of the human body alternate between mobile and stable joints, creating the mobility-stability continuum

A Joint-by-Joint Approach

Doctors of Physical Therapy use the mobility-stability continuum to evaluate the human body in a joint-by-joint approach. Each joint has a goal: to produce a specific movement. This can be done by either resisting forces (stability) or producing forces (mobility). Both mobile and stable joints work together to create harmonious movement.

Every mobile joint is surrounded by stable joints and vice versa, in an alternating pattern. For example, the foot needs stability, while the ankle needs mobility, the knee needs stability, and the hip requires mobility. But don’t be fooled by this oversimplification: each joint falls somewhere on a range of motion. Not all joints that require mobility need the same range of motion. The shoulders are more mobile than the hips, while the knee is much more stable than the hips. 

This alternating pattern can become unbalanced when a joint is injured or compromised and the body must compensate, by forcing a stable joint to become more mobile and vice versa. 

Compensation & Mobility vs Stability

When a joint is compromised in some way, the body must compensate in order to continue functioning. If this compensation goes on for too long, the body’s muscle memory learns an incorrect movement pattern that will lead to further injury, pain, and poor performance. A licensed physical therapist can help you figure out where you’re compensating and re-teach your body correct movement patterns.

The mobility-stability continuum becomes extremely out of balance when the body overcompensates. What can happen is that joints that were supposed to provide stability start to become more mobile and vice versa. 

So if you injure your foot (a stable joint), your ankle may compensate by increasing in stability and bracing. Unfortunately, your ankle joint is closer to the mobility side of the continuum and is not very good at stabilizing. Overtime, you become prone to injury in the compensating joint and develop pain. 

How a DPT Evaluates Mobility & Stability

A Doctor of Physical Therapy can evaluate where your joints fall on the continuum in several different ways. One of these includes a hands-on passive evaluation of each joint. In this case, the patient would lie relaxed and allow a licensed physical therapist to mobilize the joint in question.

Another way to evaluate joint stability vs mobility includes looking at the patient’s functional movements and assessing whether or not they are moving correctly. Incorrect movement patterns are a clue as to compensatory joint patterns.

Once evaluation is complete, a Doctor of Physical Therapy can prescribe exercises and stretches to increase stability or mobility in a joint and correct poor movement patterns. 

How the Continuum Impacts Equestrians

Equestrians must have complete control over the stability and mobility of their joints in the saddle. In the space of just a few seconds, we must be capable of increasing our stability or soften with more mobility in the joints, particularly the hips.

For example, in order to guide a dressage horse into a leg yield, we must rely on a stable knee to support the calf and allow the mobile ankle to push the horse onto the diagonal. On the other hand, the highly sought after independent seat is created through optimal mobility of the hips, and allows us to move fluidly with the horse’s motion. 

If you’re having performance issues with your horse, it could be due to compensatory movement patterns related to the mobility-stability continuum. Contact Dr. Shields’ today to find out how a licensed physical therapist can help you take your performance to the next level.