Mobility and Stability: The Keystones To Pain Free and Functional Living

Mobility and stability pretty much sum things up when it comes to pain, stiffness and decreased performance in many endeavours.

And that’s not just sporting and athletic endeavours; mobility and stability play a huge role in everyday activities like bending over to pick something up off the floor, reaching up to get something from the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard or simply standing at the kitchen sink for a few minutes.

When it comes to posture, pain and performance, there are a few ways of looking at the human body, including:

  • Position of the load bearing joints
  • The planes of motion
  • Specific postural deviations
  • Dysfunctions versus compensations

And then there is mobility and stability.

Now, even though you have no doubt heard the words mobility and stability before, let’s give them a specific definition now, within the context of movement, function and alignment (posture).

Mobility and Stability Defined

Mobility

Mobility is the combination of:

  • Muscle flexibility
  • The range of motion at the joint, and
  • The freedom of movement that each particular body segment has

Stability

Stability is the ability to maintain posture and/or control motion, both in activities that are performed without moving, such as bending over to pick something up, or in dynamic movements, such as running after your dog that just snatched your freshly roasted joint of beef, or sausages, as the case may be…Mobility and stability chasing a dog

Therefore, stability can be divided into two categories:

  1. Static stability
  2. Dynamic stability

An example of static stability is the ability to stand on one leg.

When you stand on one leg, the opposite leg (specifically, the opposite hip) has to be able to stabilise you as you do that. If you think you never stand on one leg, think again. You do it at least five thousand times a day.

  • It’s called walking.

An example of dynamic stability would be when you leap over a fence (you do still leap over fences, don’t you?!).

As you leap over the fence, your abdominal muscles should kick in to stabilise your trunk (your torso).

They should also kick in to stabilise you as you chase after your dog that just stole your freshly roasted joint of beef (or sausages).

Swapping Stability for Mobility: The Back Pain Example

If you have lower back pain, for example, then there’s a good chance your hip joints have less mobility than they should have (and did have many years ago when you were a baby and toddler).

As the mobility in your hips has deteriorated, your body knows it has to keep you moving and in order to do that, it has to “steal” the mobility from somewhere else. Guess where it often steals it from?

Yes, your lower back. Where your hips are lacking in mobility, your lower back surrenders its stability and compensates. Now the central portion of your body, which should have stability has now swapped it for mobility.

And you feel it with back pain.

Mobility and Stability Trends

While there are no hard and fast rules with regard to movement, alignment and function, there are trends.

Stability is more often than not lost at the foot, whereas mobility is more often lost at the ankle and that often translates into a stability problem at the knee.

If the knee has a stability problem, then the hip will usually have a mobility problem, which – as I just mentioned in the back pain example – usually translates as a stability problem at the central point of your body (commonly known as “the core”, which is a term I’m not a huge fan of).

So if you’re one of those people that has commented on the fact that you’re “not very flexible”, it might be a good idea to look at where you’ve given up your mobility in order for another body part to acquire stability (tightness / stiffness / rigidity).