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Following injury to a joint, there will almost always be some associated loss of motion. That loss of movement may be attributed to a number of pathologic factors, including contracture of inert connective tissue (eg, ligaments and joint capsule), resistance of the contractile tissue or the musculotendinous unit (eg, muscle, tendon, and fascia) to stretch, or some combination of the two.1,2 If left untreated, the joint will become hypomobile and will eventually begin to show signs of degeneration.3

Joint mobilization and traction are manual therapy techniques that are slow, passive movements of articulating surfaces.4 They are used to regain normal active joint range of motion (ROM), restore normal passive motions that occur about a joint, reposition or realign a joint, regain a normal distribution of forces and stresses about a joint, or reduce pain—all of which collectively improve joint function.5 Joint mobilization and traction are two extremely effective and widely used techniques in injury rehabilitation.6


For the physical therapist supervising a rehabilitation program, some understanding of the biomechanics of joint movement is essential. There are basically two types of movements that govern motion about a joint. Perhaps the better known of the two types of movements are the physiologic movements that result from either concentric or eccentric active muscle contractions that move a bone or joint. This type of motion is referred to as osteokinematic motion. A bone can move about an axis of rotation, or a joint into flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, and rotation. The second type of motion is accessory motion. Accessory motions refer to the manner in which one articulating joint surface moves relative to another and can include spin, roll, and glide. Physiologic movement is voluntary, whereas accessory movements normally accompany physiologic movement.7 The two movements occur simultaneously. Although accessory movements cannot occur independently, they are produced by some external force. Normal accessory component motions must occur for full-range physiologic movement to take place.8 If any of the accessory component motions are restricted, normal physiologic cardinal plane movements will not occur.9,10 A muscle cannot be fully rehabilitated if the joint is not free to move, and vice versa.3

Traditionally in rehabilitation programs, we have tended to concentrate more on physiologic movements without paying much attention to ...

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