Movement Medicine for Healthy Joints

Tuesday, August 15 2023

Don’t just stretch at the end of class, make sure you offer a joint tune-up as well. How do you do that? Join me in the pool for a series of joint mobility exercises from the neck down to the ankles. Muscular flexibility and joint range of motion are equally important and doing both can help your class members stay pain and injury free in their daily activities



Joint Mobility is for Everyone
Joint Tune Up is a 15-minute video that features 24 AEA Arthritis Foundation (AF) Exercises for all of the sub-categories of joints as outlined in AEA AF Program Leader Manual. These categories include Neck & Jaw, Shoulder & Elbow, Wrist & Fingers, Trunk, Hip & Knee and Ankles & Toes. These AF exercises are designed to move a joint through its full range of motion (ROM). Failure to move a joint through its full ROM breaks down the cartilage that keeps your joint moving smoothly, which leads to the development of osteoarthritis. Joint mobility exercises aren’t just for arthritis classes or senior programming. All ages and fitness levels have a vested interest in keeping their joints supple and healthy. HIIT may be popular, but people won’t be able to participate in HIIT classes if they are in pain or injured. 

Joint Lubrication
The human body is largely made up of synovial joints, which are joints where the bones are connected. Synovial fluid is found in the cavity of synovial joints. Movement, particularly a full ROM moves that synovial fluid around the joint cavity and keeps the joint supple. Lack of movement prevents that synovial fluid from dispersing and lubricating the joint. Without movement and lubrication, the joint loses function over time and becomes stiffer and more prone to injury and inflammation. Pain is the end result of inflammation. Typical activities of daily living are not enough to move a joint through its full range of motion. Optimal elasticity can only be achieved by specific joint mobility exercises. 

What causes joint pain and stiffness?
Joint pain and stiffness can be caused by a variety of issues related to genetics, obesity, diet, injury and lack of exercise. As mentioned above, a lack of movement and a sedentary lifestyle are leading causes of stiff and painful joints. Therefore, exercise is universally recommended for people who suffer from arthritis or stiff and painful joints. However, injuries are another leading cause of joint pain and stiffness. It is common for arthritis to set in after an injury to an area such as the hips, knees, shoulders or spine. This doesn’t have to happen. Joint mobility exercises can act like movement medicine to the affected joint and can slow or even prevent the onset of arthritis.
Watch Mark talk more about his own experience with movement medicine and the benefit of performing these AF exercises in the pool.


The Benefits of Joint Mobility Exercise in the Water
The arthritis exercises in the Joint Tune-up video can be done in a studio but you’ll want a wall or chair for class members to hold on to during the leg exercises. The ROM of some exercises may also have to be modified due to the nature of gravity versus buoyancy. Below are three reasons why performing joint mobility exercises in the pool can be beneficial. 

  • The water’s viscosity provides a kind of support that holds participants up. They have better balance with the leg movements and more confidence to go deeper into exercises without the fear of falling. However, participants can hold onto a noodle, kickboard or the pool wall for extra support. 
  • The water’s buoyant properties also encourage greater ROM. Arms and legs can extended away from the body more easily thanks to the uplifting nature of buoyancy. On land, the downward force of gravity may require modifications to avoid discomfort with extended levers. 
  • The resistive forces of the water can also help improve muscular endurance as the movements are performed. For this reason, encourage class members to lower themselves to neck level to get the benefits of the water’s resistance on the cervical spine and shoulder.

AEA Arthritis Foundation Resources
Completing the online AEA AF Program Leader course a few years ago was truly a game-changer in my teaching career. All of my fitness classes (land & water) have benefited from this continuing education. I don’t even teach arthritis classes, but I do add these exercises in all of my formats, including high intensity interval training (HIIT). The course also gave me the confidence and the resources to teach chair classes, which has become a favorite format of mine. If you are interested in the AF Program Leader online course or just in having access to the AF exercise library, consider one of the AEA resources below:
AEA AF Program Leader Manual  Excellent value for just $25.00 
AEA AFAP Class Resource Video Movement Library (DVD) - $18.99 
AEA AFAP Program Leader Online Training Course - $129.00 
Be sure to bookmark the Arthritis section of AEA's website for a complete menu of AF resources.

As a fitness instructor you can help your class members combat joint pain and stiffness so that they can enjoy a better quality of life. Ever since I took the AEA AF course I have added a joint tune-up in all of my classes, along with the final stretch. I just do one exercise per joint for around a total of 3 minutes. Spending a few minutes to encourage my students to move their joints through a full ROM is like giving them medicine that will help them move better, feel better and live better.

Author: Mark Grevelding is the founder of Fitmotivation. He is also a training specialist and consultant with the Aquatic Exercise Association’s (AEA). Mark has been active in the fitness industry for 22 years as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, international presenter and a continuing education provider for AEA, AFAA & ACE.