Secret Hack for Gaining Mobility and Strength (Without Pain)

mindfulmovement praticaltools Sep 20, 2022

Your brain has been keeping secrets from you. Not in a “Mean Girls” kind of way, but more so an “I didn’t know you cared about this, so I never told you” way. Since awareness is a powerful first step for change, bringing some of these secrets to the surface could make a huge difference for our health and well-being, especially if it means understanding how our minds and bodies work. 

One such secret is Interlimb Neural Coupling. This term might be unfamiliar and confusing upfront, but I’ll explain what it is and how it can help your mobility and strength. First, if you didn’t know, joint mobility has become a bigger focus in many movement practices. This is because it can improve strength and flexibility, reduce the chance of injury, and help with overall pain management. However, many folks still experience joint injuries, pain, and a limited range of motion. And while movement can be an effective way to work directly with these aggravated or restricted joints, it is often challenging. So, what else can we do?

This is where Interlimb Neural Coupling can be helpful. Let’s break it down: there is a brain-based (neurological) and body-based (biomechanical) connection between opposing joints. This means you can increase your capacity for motion in one joint by moving another joint that is “coupled” (linked). For example, your right wrist and your left ankle are coupled. If you had a cast on your right wrist and couldn’t move it, but you regularly did left ankle mobilizations during that period, you’d likely have more range of motion in your right wrist when the cast comes off, and you could improve mobility more quickly. In case you weren’t sure why this matters, improving mobility after any injury is helpful because moving a joint (within its pain-free range of motion) assists the repair process. It gets synovial fluid into it with nutrients for repairs, and it also gets blood flowing in the area which is beneficial for the surrounding tissues. 

So, how can all of this apply to your daily life? You can use Interlimb Neural Coupling to increase the pain-free range of motion in joints by doing the opposing motion in the opposite joint. For example, you can increase your right knee flexion (bending the joint) by using a left elbow extension (straightening the joint). Keep in mind, this will work differently for each person and there are a couple of different ways to apply this. Perhaps it’s best for you to lock out the left elbow (extension) while working on bending the right knee (flexion), or maybe it’s better to use left elbow extension movements before doing right knee flexion movements.

To help visualize what parts of our bodies are coupled, here’s a short list of some opposing joints:

  • Wrists and Ankles
  • Elbows and Knees
  • Shoulders and Hips
  • Upper-Middle Spine and Lower Spine
  • Cervical Spine and Pelvis
  • TMJ (joint that connects jawbone with skull) and Tailbone

 

Now, here’s a short list of opposing motions you can utilize:

  • Bending and Straightening
  • Adduction and Abduction (moving a body part towards the midline of the body, and moving a body part away from the midline)
  • Internal Rotation/External Rotation

 

If you’re not familiar with how these motions look at each joint, you can google the joints and terms (such as “shoulder flexion”) to get a better visual and description. And if you’re feeling stuck in your mobility or recovery journey, Interlimb Neural Coupling might help move things along, pun fully intended. 

To pain-free movement and greater mobility and strength!

Written by: MJ, Movement & Pain Management Specialist

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