How to Articulate the Joints and Move with Confidence

So you want to start a quality mobility practice? This article series gives you the bare essentials needed to get started.

In this article we talk about joint articulations. What are they? How can we learn the many articulations the body possess, and how this pertains to movement patterns.

What exactly is Joint Articulation?

Let’s first look at the two nouns separately – (joint) and (articulation).

Joint – the joint is the point where two components of a structure join, but are still able to rotate.

Articulation – an articulation (or articular surface) is the connection made between bones in the body which link the skeletal system into a functional whole. They are constructed to allow for different degrees and types of movement.

While they are very similar in nature there is a distinct difference. The joint is the physical structure of the bones and the articulation is pretty much the tissue in the middle. 

This is important to understand because we are not strengthening bones when we strengthen our joints. We are strengthening the articular surfaces, the tissue that is holding those bones together within the joint. Strengthening this tissue results in the long term biological change needed to decrease weakness and pain in the joint.

Below I have listed the basic joint articulations that are used in the body.

Basic Joint Articulations:

  • Extension and Flexion (lateral)
  • Abduction and Adduction
  • Circumduction
  • Supination and Pronation
  • Dorsiflexion and Plantar/Palmer Flexion
  • Rotation (medial/internal and lateral/external)
  • Inversion and Eversion
  • Protraction and Retraction (scapula and mandible)
  • Depression and Elevation (scapula and mandible)

Uncommon Joint Articulations:

  • Opposition and Reposition (thumb)
  • Superior and Inferior Rotation (scapula
  • Lateral and Medial Excursion (mandible)
  • Protrusion and Retrusion (mandible)

What is mobility?

Mobility refers to the amount of usable motion that one has across a particular articulation (joint). Exploring the joints by moving them actively through their current end ranges is a way to assess the body before movement.

Each joint has its own recipe of articulation. Combined with the other joints, we are able to construct a variety of mobility patterns and poses. Articulations are the building blocks for movement. Once you understand how to foundationally move, we can build upon that.

Keep in mind that every joint is capable of a combination of articulations. It is your job to learn each joint and the different articulations it has.

breaking down the joints

The joints in the body can be separated into three main areas. First we have the spine and its three sections. Second is the upper body limbs and lastly the lower body limbs.

Spine

Approximate ranges are shown when applicable.

Cervical Spine (Neck)

Ranges
80°- 90°
70°
20°- 45°
90°

Articulation
flexion
extension
lateral flexion
rotation

Thoracic Spine (Middle Back)

Ranges



Articulation
flexion
extension
lateral flexion
rotation

Lumbar Spine (Low Back)

Ranges



Articulation
flexion
extension
lateral flexion
rotation


Upper Body Limbs

Approximate ranges are shown when applicable.

Scapula Joint

Ranges
40°
10°
15°
20°

Articulation
elevation
depression
retraction
protraction

Shoulder Joint

Ranges
180°
45 – 60°
150 – 160°
30 – 50°
70 – 90°
90°

Articulation
flexion
extension
abduction
adduction
internal rotation
external rotation

Elbow Joint

Ranges

150°
80°
80°

Articulation
extension
flexion
supination
pronation

Wrist Joint

Ranges
65 – 85°
70 – 90°
15 – 25°
25 – 40°

Articulation
dorsiflexion
palmer flexion
radial deviation
ulnar deviation


Lower Body Limbs

Approximate ranges are shown when applicable.

Hip Joint

Ranges
110 – 120°
10 – 15°
30 – 50°
20 – 30°
40 – 60°
30 – 40°

Articulation
flexion
extension
abduction
adduction
external rotation
internal rotation

Knee Joint

Ranges

150°
45°
25°

Articulation
extension
flexion
external rotation
internal rotation

Ankle Joint

Ranges
50°
20°
35°
25°

Articulation
plantar flexion
dorsiflexion
inversion
eversion

What is a pose or sequence?

A pose or sequence is a number of articulations used together, either at once or in a pattern to achieve a pose or movement. 

Looking at the lunge we can identify five different articulations in the lower body. Even though the limbs being used are the same (legs), the knees and the hip are in different articulations.

Lunge

Lower Body

Front Leg & Hip
Ankle Dorsiflexion
Knee Flexion
Hip Flexion

Back Leg & Hip
Ankle Dorsiflexion
Knee Extension
Hip Extension

As you can see, even simple postures require simultaneous articulations to be achieved in the body. We didn’t even mention the upper body since it was not the focus, but it was definitely articulating! This is why it’s so important to understand these articulations in your own body. What is the range of a joint’s specific articulation and how well can that range be expressed?

The answers to these questions on a joint by joint basis will define your current foundation of mobility. The starting point for all poses and movements.

Here are two other basic poses and their articulations.

Pyramid

Lower Body

Front Leg & Hip
Ankle Plantar Flexion
Knee Extension
Hip Flexion

Back Leg & Hip
Ankle Dorsiflexion
Knee Extension
Hip Extension

Downward Dog

Upper and Lower Body

Lower Limbs
Ankle Dorsiflexion
Knee Extension
Hip Flexion

Upper Limbs
Palmer Flexion
Elbow Extension
Shoulder Flexion

*As with the lunge example, there a more articulations (than listed) happening in the body during these poses. Examples would be the upper body in Pyramid and the spine in both Pyramid and Downward Dog.

What is movement?

As we progress into movement, the articulations become more complex and dynamic. The better your nervous system can control the basic movements, the more responsive it will be when it needs to react from dynamic, isometric and weight bearing movements.

However, before we go into those areas, we need to master the stretch. What is stretching and how can we effectively use it to lengthen tissue in the body?

This will be our next topic of discussion.

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