Do you run or use a treadmill? If so, do you ever counterbalance the downward push of your leg and hip by lifting your leg high? Or do you ever move your head backward to counterbalance looking down at a keyboard or papers all day?
If you never make a joint movement that counterbalances the way you always use a joint, the tendons that surround your joints will shrink and contract. A joint is where two bones come together. It may be as big and important as a hip joint, or it may be as small as the top section of your little finger. But working every joint in all ranges of motion is a good way to keep your joints healthy.
Here’s a quick test of how tendons contract: Your fingers spend most of their time curved downward, as you text, type or write. Right this second, straighten your fingers as much as you can. Are they hard to straighten? Is your hand uncomfortable with the fingers held straight? Does it take effort to hold them straight?
The word ‘counterbalance’ is used here to describe the opposite movement to the way a joint is usually moved. For example, if your neck joints are usually used in a forward and downward position, as in looking at a device, the counter movement would be to tip the head backwards and roll it from side to side. When doing this, you may even hear your neck make creaking noises.
The counterbalance movement is not confined to the targeted muscle. No muscle works in isolation. For example, the traps (trapeziums) are at the top of the shoulders, but connect to the back of the skull as they make their way down the back. As you stretch your neck in a counter position, you will also be moving your traps in a counter position. In fact, if you have regular neck or shoulder pain, try squeezing your shoulder blades together. Stretching out your traps in a counter position can often eliminate this pain.
The idea of countering the common position of a body part by moving it in an opposite direction is not about strengthening or even becoming more flexible. It’s just a healthier way to care for your joints. If you’re lucky you’ll grow older, so you want to make your joints last as long as possible.
Think about your shoulder joints, for example. They are the most flexible joints in your body, even more than your hip. Think of the movements your shoulders can give to your arms; allowing them to reach your back (if your body is flexible enough), or upward overhead or around in a circle.
In fact, the shoulder is actually made up of two different joints with long names.
One is the acromioclavicular joint at the highest point of the shoulder. Put one hand on it and lift the arm to feel it move. Rotate your arm around in a circle. You’ll be able to feel how flexible this part of the shoulder is.
The second joint of the shoulder is the glenohumeral, a ball-and-socket type joint. Ball-and-socket joints consist of a bone with a rounded end that fits into a shallow socket. Examples are the humerus (upper arm bone) and femur (thigh bone). The arrangement allows the limb to move in many different directions, but it also features a lack of stability. The bone can come out of its socket, resulting in a common injury called a dislocation.
Working out with resistance slowly builds up the strength of the tendons, which is a good thing. But counterbalancing the dominant position of a joint with opposing movements can be done anywhere, doesn’t need equipment and is a good thing as well.