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Evan Osar : Joint Range of Motion, Centering the Joints in the Sockets

One guy in our industry with unusual ideas is Evan Osar, a real favorite of mine. I’ve been following his youtube videos since he started filming a year or so ago, and I read his monthly newsletters, so I was eager to hear him present his sessions at the IDEA conference a couple of months ago. The presentations, Improving Hip and Trunk Rotation, available on DVD or instant access, and Improving Balance in the Baby Boomer, ditto availability, were fabulous, and as you might guess, right up my alley. So I, uh… I took some notes.

One of the highlights were his thoughts on why we lose joint range of motion. This is a primary problem as we get a little older, and we need to know what’s causing this decline in joint mobility so we can fend it off. Sure, sitting at this desk is a factor, but there are others reasons, and one I’ll bet you never thought of.

Evan Osar
Evan Osar, IDEA World Conference, Anaheim, August 2009

Fully one-third of all lack of motion is caused by neurodevelopmental dysfunction. What’s the mean in English? You didn’t teach yourself how to move right as an infant! Can you believe that? A funky hip could be as simple as not moving in both directions between the crawling-around and the getting-upright stages. Maybe Mom always sat in her favorite chair on the left, and you never got around to practicing to the right.

The second big reason we lose range of motion is injury. These can be caused by a traumatic impact event, but at least as often a new injury is caused by a previous one. An injury often shuts down movement near the affected joint, causing less motion in that extremity than in the non-injured side. With asymmetries in range of motion, the larger the difference between the two sides, the greater the potential for injury.

We also have a problem with learned behaviors like lousy walking habits, standing in a hip strut or faulty cardio exercise style — think Stairmaster, hands on the rails, shoulders jammed up toward the ears, hips shifting side to side instead of long, forward-moving walking strides, all of which contribute to a stuck thorax with a lumbar area moving way too much.

When we talk about hip mobility, we’re concerned with movement — range of easy motion. The second and equally important aspect of joint action is stability: Is the surrounding musculature able to hold the joint in the center of the socket. This is called joint centration, the optimal access of rotation of the joint. Bad centration equals bad rotation, and vice versa.


Habitually holding a position causes the body to lose the ability to center the joint, sometimes due to tightness or weakness, and sometimes due to poor neuromuscular control, the brain sending faulty signals.

When we boil it all down, it comes to this: We need to create better centration of our joints. If the pelvis is stuck in anterior or posterior tilt (Osar, in opposition to many writers in this industry, believes most people are in posterior tilt), the hips are unable to center in the sockets.

One of his examples is overactivation of the glutes, a sort of always-on squeezing at the back of the hip socket. To quote Evan:

“This over-activation drives the head of the femur forward in the socket and generally leads to increased activation of the external hip rotators. In turn, this leads to decreases in internal rotation requiring compensatory changes in the knee, spine, and/or ankle. Focusing on releasing the posterior hip through fundamental patterns will often improve ROM without doing any other release techniques.”

In another example, as we lose internal rotation at the glenohumeral joint, the shoulder moves out of centration. You can see how this works if you stop reading, close your eyes and picture the joint pulled off-center in the socket.

Without joint centration, range of motion begins to decrease. Limited range of motion and weakness go together. Joints lock down to provide stability when the brain senses weakness.

We get pain because of too much uncontrolled motion; we’ve got to be strong enough, and maintain enough neurological control over the muscles surrounding the joints to provide stability of joint on top of joint.

This uncontrolled motion — this instability — is also why we lose balance.

I’ll decipher my notes on his baby-boomer balance improvement session another time. As I expected, it was also an exceptional talk in which he developed the ideas of stability and, surprising to me, spent a great deal of time on breathing patterns. I’ll flesh out my memories and post his bullet points later this month; in the meantime, go over to Evan’s website and sign up for his newsletter for a glimpse at his monthly insight into learning how your physical body truly functions.

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