The point at which two bones meet is known as a joint. Each joint is surrounded by soft tissues—including ligaments and muscles—that can become damaged, leading to pain, inflammation, and loss of mobility. Joint mobilization is a manual therapy technique often performed by physical therapists, occupational therapists, chiropractors, and osteopaths. It is often an effective treatment option for injuries in which pain and tightness restrict motion, particularly in the shoulders, elbow, wrist, hand, and lower back. It involves initiating skilled, passive movement of a skeletal joint to increase the patient’s awareness of correct joint positioning as well as simulate proper joint function. Joint mobilization typically involves a series of small, back-and-forth movements in which the therapist gently works a joint through a natural level of resistance. This increases the joint’s range of motion and stretches and strengthens the surrounding tissues. Once motion within the joint is restored and pain subsides, patients usually begin a monitored exercise program to increase strength in the structures surrounding the joint. They will continue with this program until they are able to return to normal activity uninhibited.
Although joint mobilization often is confused with joint manipulation, these are two separate techniques. The difference is that with joint manipulation, therapists use forceful thrusts—rather than gentle movements—to initiate joint movement.