Fix Pain with The Joint-By-Joint Theory

“Problems at one joint usually show up as pain in the joint above or below.” – Mike Boyle⁣

Gray Cook and Mike Boyle argue that the body is basically a stack of joints from the ankles to the shoulders. Each joint has a specific function to serve. Dysfunction with one joint usually shows up as pain or injury to the surrounding joints. ⁣

When you stack the joints up you can see that they alternate between the need for mobility and the need for stability.⁣

  • Ankles: Mobility⁣

  • Knees: Stability⁣

  • Hip: Mobility⁣

  • Lumbar spine (low back): Stability⁣

  • Thoracic spine (upper back): Mobility⁣

  • Scapula: Stability ⁣

  • Shoulders: Mobility ⁣

Knowing the role of each joint makes finding the source of the injury and reducing pain easier. It also helps when it comes to planning your training. ⁣

To recap - pain in one joint is usually from dysfunction at another joint.⁣

Let’s use the low back as an example. Stuart McGill explains that most people suffering from low back pain may actually have stronger low backs than those who don’t. The problem isn’t the pain in the low back per se, it could be stemming from an issue in the hips. If the hips don’t move effectively then the low back is forced to compensate. ⁣

You can see (from the photo) the hip joint is built for mobility, the low back for stability. When the hip is stiff and immobile, the low back is forced to move and become more mobile (and consequently less stable). The result? Pain, injury, dysfunction.⁣

“The process is simple: Lose ankle mobility, get knee pain. Lose hip mobility, get low back pain. Lose thoracic mobility, get neck and shoulder pain (or low back pain).” – Mike Boyle⁣

Not to confuse things, but we also want the hips to be stable. Luckily, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. You can have both ‘mobile’ hips and ‘stable’ hips. We include both hip mobility and hip stability work into our warm-up.⁣

If you are injured or carrying a niggle, look above or below the joint for the problem. Often the site of the pain is not the cause of the pain.


If you have a serious injury – let’s say the knee – then you should focus more time on the joint above and below (hip and ankle). In saying that, here’s a general warm-up routine you could use:⁣

*Note: All exercises don’t have to be completed in every session. Hitting them at least once a week (regardless of injury) would be beneficial.⁣

3 sets for everything. ⁣ ⁣


Warm up:⁣

#1 Mobility drills on the ankles, hips, and t-spine⁣

Ankle:⁣

- Knee to Wall: 15 reps, 5 straight, 5 towards small toe, 5 towards big toe.⁣

- Eccentric Weighted Dorsiflexion: 10 reps each foot⁣

Hips:⁣

- Split Squats: 8 or so each leg⁣

- Figure 4: 30-60 sec each side⁣

- Froggy: 30 sec in the middle, 30 sec leaning to each side⁣

T-Spine⁣

- Foam Roll T-Spine: A minute or so, avoid the low back or neck⁣

- Thoracic Rotations: 10 each side⁣

#2 Activation’ work on the knees, hips, midline and shoulders.⁣

Knees⁣

- TKE’s: 10-15 each side ⁣

*Note: the knees will be stabilised a lot by the hips. Focus on hip mobility and stability as well as jumping and landing mechanics for healthy knees.⁣

Hips⁣

- Crab Walks: 10-15 each way⁣

- Monster Walks: 10-15 forwards and backwards⁣

- Hip Flexor March: 5x5 sec holds each leg⁣

- Single Leg Bridge: 8 each leg⁣

- ½ Adductor Lifts: 5-10 each leg depending on competency⁣

Midline⁣

Next 3 drills = 3x10 sec holds, each side, each set.⁣

- McGill Iso⁣

- Bird Dogs⁣

- Side Plank⁣

Shoulders⁣

- Band Pull-Aparts: 15 or so⁣

- Double Arm External Rotations: 15 or so⁣

- Bottoms Up KB Press: 8 reps⁣ ⁣


Training session:⁣

#3 Complete compound lifts after mobilising and stabilising joints / muscles.⁣

i.e. Complete a thorough warm up with the exercises above, then… sprint, throw, jump, bench, overhead press, chin-up, row, squat, deadlift, lunge, carry, plank.⁣

Remember training is simple – not easy.⁣

If you’re confused or have any questions, send them through

#one22 #strengthcapacityresilience #jointbyjoint

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