What Should You Work On? Joints, Muscles or Nerves?

One of the tough questions for people to answer on their own is "what exactly is the problem?". This is because most people aren't a health professional that can solve what is going on in their bodies.

So what do you do? Today's post is NOT to take the place of a good assessment but to help you understand how your body works and what you can do that is like a "shotgun" approach to self-management that might be able to help you until you can get in to see your health professional.

A Quick Refresher:


  • Made up of bones, ligaments, cartilage, joint capsules etc
  • Passive structure - it gets acted upon and responds to forces
  • Dysfunction can be either movement when no movement is expected/normal OR no movement when movement is expected/normal.
    • E.g. knees caving in during a squat is undesirable movement when the knees should stay out over the feet.
    • Another example is restricted ankles causing a person to excessively bend over in the back to keep their balance


  • Made up of contractile tissue with strong connective tissue in the muscles that for attachments and tendons
  • Active structure - it acts upon other structures and generates force and torque.
  • Dysfunction is decreased contractile strength - either from muscle damage (tears), decreased neural input or pain.
    • E.g. Hamstring tear causing weak hamstring contraction
    • E.g. Pinched nerve causing temporary or permanent weakness
    • E.g. Pain when contracting a muscle causing you to stop contracting it - you never build up peak strength due to the pain.


  • Start in the brain, go out down the spinal cord into various areas of the body
  • Controls the vital organs as well as all the muscles, joints, and sensation around the body
  • Dysfunction can be weakness, altered sensation, decreased power, poor coordination


My Recommendation:

I think you should work on your joints - here's why:

  • The "stiffness" in your joints could be because
    • Your joints are actually stiff or
    • Your joints have muscular protective spasm
    • You have nerves irritated that cause excessive muscle spasms
    • No matter what, if you work on the joint, you will decrease the joint stiffness, improve the muscular spasms and settle the nerves down.
  • If you have a muscle tear, working on your joints can help ease the pain and the protective muscle spasm.
    • Improved joint mobility means the muscles have less resistance to work against (a good thing in this case)
    • Joint mobilisations have an analgesic effect - they are like pain killers 🙂
  • If you have nerve irritation, the joint mobilisations can help reduce any contributing factors that might be irritating the nerves
    • Improved joint mobility means less muscular spasms which means less irritation of the nerves
    • Improved pain from joint mobilisations can "turn down the volume" of painful and irritated nerves
  • Massaging and stretching muscles or nerves can increase pain and stiffness which is counterproductive
    • You generally want the self-treatment to be as pain-free as possible
    • These techniques can flare up pain

Obviously the argument is not air-tight - a good physiotherapist's assessment will trump anything that you find on your own - just ask good questions!

How To Do It Yourself:

***Ideally, you should get someone to teach you how to do this***

If you don't have someone to teach you how to do this, then try to push on different bones in different directions as you move until you find somewhere that takes away at least 50% of your pain. Then try to do it 5-10 times. It should get better as you are doing each rep.

You can use a ball or broomstick or some other device to support a joint while you move around.

Joints like the feet, hands, wrists etc are much easier to deal with. Ribs and back joints are harder to get access to because you have a lot of muscles and other structure to deal with.


Working on your joints is like the ultimate shotgun treatment - it isn't the first weapon of choice but when used appropriately, it is quite effective.

If you have a specific request about how to self-treat an area, let me know and I will respond to your questions below.

3 Responses

  1. My girlfriend’s mother believes she tore a hamstring on her left side while playing with a toddler. She feels discomfort when her hip is flexed but can stretch her hamstrings fine. She describes the pain going from the top of her left glute down her leg, staying posterior, kind of behind the IT band. I expect the hamstrings involved are probably biceps femoris but it doesn’t seem like it is a tear. Any tips for assessing or what would help? Thanks!

    1. Thanks Logan. It is hard to be precise but you have to do muscle and nerve and joint tests to work it out. Perhaps she has sciatica? A hamstring tear will show up on muscle testing.

      My best advice wound be to see someone about a proper assessment

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