Joint mobilization is a manual therapy intervention, a type of passive movement of a skeletal joint. It is usually aimed at a ‘target’ synovial joint with the aim of achieving a therapeutic effect. When applied to the spine, it is known as spinal mobilization. Physiotherapists find spinal mobilisation very effective in a wide range of painful spinal conditions, particularly where restricted mobility is present. Restoration of spinal mobility, both in physiological movement and in vertebral segmental mobility, often results in a reduction in the patient’s pain and spasm. This outcome is equally effective in the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine.
The most frequently used mobilisation technique is oscillation. Oscillations are small, rhythmic movements applied by the physiotherapist to painful, stiff or inflamed tissue. These tissues include the zygapophyseal joints, intervertebral discs, dura and spinal nerves. The comprehensive assessment approach prior to the treatment enables the physiotherapist to identify which of these structures is the primary source of symptoms.
Many people, both young and old can enjoy the benefits of decreased pain and improved mobility that joint mobilization provides. Athletes use it to relieve pain caused by sports injuries. It is often used in people with limited physical activity such as seniors or the physically challenged. It can help with chronic conditions such as arthritis or acute pain caused from injury.
Joints that have reduced motion from scar tissue can see improvement with this procedure. Joint mobilization can be performed on many areas of the body. It is often used on the neck, spine, and pelvis and can be performed on the feet, ankles, wrists, and ribs.
This is a safe procedure that is only performed after a full assessment of the patient has been done. The process is completed slowly, and the patient can speak up if they feel any additional pain to stop the mobilization. This process is actually a very gentle treatment that can result in immediate improvements.
Modern theories propose that spinal mobilisation can reduce pain by moving swelling containing neurotransmitters such as substance P and histamine. In addition, the threshold which stimulates nociceptors may be raised by gentle oscillations.
Spinal mobilization has a significant role to play in the treatment of neck and back pain. It can be offered as part of a broader physiotherapy approach which includes aspects of self management, education and advice or a home exercise program. The addition of spinal mobilisation to other management approaches to back and neck problems gives better outcomes in terms of reduced pain levels and better physical function.