Body Wellness Blog

In our blog we will teach you the basics of posture, movement and exercise to help you move through life more fluidly and with less pain.

What is “Neutral” Joint Position and Why Is It Important?

By Patricia Staszak, PT

A joint’s neutral position is the midrange of the joint, where there is the least amount of support from the ligaments and other non-muscular tissues around the joint. Why is neutral important? Because in this position, the small, deep muscles around the joint are in the best position to work to control shear and rotation at the joint’s axis; this lets the joint function more like it was designed to function. Neutral is the position that best minimizes stress through the joint. If we are successful in aligning our body along the plumb line, we are more likely to stand and function with our joints in a neutral position, which is great for our body.

 

To fully explain neutral, how it works and why it is important, we need to delve deeper into a related topic—the types of muscles that support our musculoskeletal system. We have local stabilizer, global stabilizer, and global mobilizer muscles in our body. The local stabilizers are deep and close to a joint’s axis of rotation; they keep our bones in the right place at the right time. It is the local stabilizers’ job to keep a joint aligned so the big muscles don’t take over and pull the joints out of position, whether we are static or moving. The global stabilizing muscles are big, strong muscles that cross multiple joints and work hard and fast. These are the muscles that move our limbs and trunk. The global stabilizers act as both stabilizers and mobilizers. To avoid confusion, we will refer to stabilizers (local and global) and mobilizers as we continue this discussion.

 

Stabilizers work at a low hum to support our joints, and they work best when the joint is in a neutral position. When stabilizers are working correctly, they contract at only 25 percent of their maximum contraction. Using our stabilizers correctly also helps us avoid over-tightening or “gripping” in our big, strong muscles. Gripping causes joint compression and can pull the joint out of correct alignment. We see this in the clinic all the time.  For instance, when a patient has previously been told to “flatten” their low back, they attempt to keep themselves in a better position by holding the muscles in their butt tight. When they’re gripping these big muscles, they are not using those stabilizing muscles at that low hum. This pattern can lead to low back or sacroiliac pain.

 

So next time you are sitting at work, standing at your counter or exercising, think about those deep stabilizers that gently support your joints as you support yourself against gravity or perform a movement. Notice whether you have gripping in other parts of your body. If so, try to release the tension and keep your body in that neutral position!