Stability or mobility? That is the question. For our bodies to move optimally we have to display the perfect combination of mobility and stability, having the ability to move fluidly from a stable platform. Every physical task we perform requires a delicate ballet between our ease of movement and our ability to stabilize ourselves in anticipation of that movement. Pain-free and injury-minimizing movement requires both. As a chiropractor and a movement specialist it is my job to help you strike that balance.
As far as the chicken and egg argument, mobility came first. When you were born your body was nothing but a floppy mass in search of ways to fulfill its needs. Lack of mobility was not an issue. You had to earn stability to develop purposeful movement. To look up and find your way you had to first stabilize your head on your neck. That is why to this day it is more important that your neck, especially the middle part, be stable. Then you learned to reach and roll and stand up and ambulate, all through trial and error until finally your brain and body worked as a team, and you learned how to stabilize enough to make the movements necessary to get what you wanted.
So through a maturation process, early on, we become a perfect union of stability and mobility. Then we go about mucking it up. We sit on our butts too much or we experience physical traumas or we do ill-advised exercises which either compromise our movement ability or sacrifice stability. There are hundreds of ways for us to screw up. Just eating a fast-food diet or not drinking enough water can compromise our body’s ability to move properly. Early on, as we lose this balance, we become, as one of my teachers puts it, dirty rotten compensators. Stabilizing becomes inhibited. Muscles which are designed as movers take on a roll of stabilizer helpers and become overworked. A good example is your spinal erector muscles, whose purpose is to help you stand up straight. Their primary job is NOT to stabilize the spine. Yet when the stabilizers of your spine are not doing their job, the erectors take over and back pain ensues.
So we need mobility to move and stability to have purposeful movement. Working out in a gym can do more harm than good. Most of us, because we do not have proper guidance, go too far in one direction or the other. Maybe you can squat 400 pounds, but can’t touch your toes. This could mean you’re using your hamstrings more than your glutes. This is a body waiting for an injury. Why do some great athletes have their careers cut short because of non-contact injuries? Simply put, they have lost their balance between stability and mobility. They have poor form. They are dirty rotten compensators.
Can you have too much mobility? Absolutely! There are parts of your body which must be stable. As I said earlier, the middle part of your neck needs stability to support your head. So having your neck adjusted five times a week for six months is probably not a good idea. Of course, if you have had neck trauma you do need adjustments and soft tissue treatment to mitigate long term stiffness. But for the most part neck adjusting should focus on the upper and lower part of your neck where most of the movement is supposed to happen.
And yes, you can have too much stability. Our thoracic spine needs to be mobile for us to breathe fully and for all the adjacent appendages to move freely. If you have poor movement in your thoracic spine and have a job which requires a lot of reaching, or even mousing, you can eventually develop shoulder or elbow problems.
So our bodies are a succession of joints stacked on top of each other which are alternatively designed to be stable and then mobile. Our feet, which are the foundation of our locomotive system, need to be stable and our ankles should be mobile, our knees should be stable and our hips mobile, and so on up the body. And yes, a foot can be too stable and an ankle too mobile. To navigate this sea of confusion you need to see a trained movement specialist who looks at your body as a whole and addresses all of your faulty movement patterns.