Joint Wear and the Hanging Wire Man

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Sitting in traffic the other day, I found myself studying the little man that hangs from my rear view mirror. He was created during a particularly boring class back in high school. He’s made of thin wire wrapped in thread, and has been hanging from his little noose in every car I’ve ever owned. He hasn’t got much going for him in the joints department (poor guy doesn’t even have elbows!), with the notable exception of his finely sculpted knees. And what I noticed about those knees is a perfect illustration of what happens to a joint when its body is practicing poor bio-mechanics.

His knees approximate the articulation possibilities of the real thing fairly well. Like the human knee they are primarily hinge joints, bending and straightening freely with very limited side-to-side play. In his early years, he (okay, we) could flex his knee fully, but his structure prevents much extension past the straight position.

Over the past 20 years he’s been snagged, flipped, jerked around and bent up in various situations. That’s life, right? His right leg is particularly beat up – that “knee cap” faces inward more than the other, and the right lower leg tends to twist outward. Both knees still swing freely as the car moves, but the right knee can extend way past neutral now, and it has much more wiggle range from side-to-side.

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So here’s what caught my eye. If you look closely at his left knee, you can see some mild wear where parts move against each other (dare I say, the “articular surfaces”). Now look at the right knee. The entire section of wire where the lower leg meets the thigh is completely bare of thread.

It’s a pretty easy leap to compare that to bone with all the cartilage worn away, and this fellow doesn’t even have to bear weight in gravity! His damage is just from the feather-weight of his lower limbs inflicting light friction on the thread. Imagine your knee in a similar position. With your body weight and gravity bearing down from above, that knee is collapsing inward against the inside lateral ligaments. Along with the stress on the soft tissues, you have the potential of misaligned joint surfaces grinding where they should be gliding. And unlike my little wire man, you have moveable hip, ankle, foot and other joints that will also be out of alignment.

So how do you identify misalignments and improve your biomechanics? You’re probably expecting me to say “pilates and structural integration!” Actually, the real answer is YOU developing your own personal bodily awareness. If you’re not aware of a misalignment, you can’t possibly correct it! Modalities like pilates and Soma bodywork can most certainly be used to develop this awareness and learn how and what to strengthen, and I guide people through exactly this every day. But no matter what tools you use, the key is taking control of your body and owning your movement, thus having the ability to make improvements.

Carli Herrs