Joint By Joint Theory Healed my Knee, Hip, Thoracic, Shoulder and Elbow Pain

I (DJ) want to begin by explaining my first injury. Roughly 12 years ago when I was 13 I strained my Achilles tendon while playing football. Instead of addressing the problem quickly, I ignored the pain. I fought through the pain every single practice. I knew if I had told the coaches about my injury, I would have to sit out. I did not want that. Symptoms decreased and eventually dissipated after the season ended. Fast forward 6 years later, I am 18 now and have been lifting for 5 years consistently with no pain. One day I decided to test my one rep max on deadlift. Atrocious form btw, I looked like a dog shitting in the woods. During my 545lb 1rm deadlift attempt (I got it up btw), my left hip flared up with excruciating pain. It felt as if someone lit a torch to it. This is when everything changed.

I knew that my form was simply unacceptable and as with most people the first thing we would address is our form.  I began researching, watching YouTube tutorials, and have read a plethora of books. I became obsessed. Obsessed to the point where I wanted to know the mechanics behind every single exercise out there.  Little did I know kinesiology was a passion of mine all along. After months and months of trying different techniques and overcomplicating things, I finally have perfected my deadlift form and have narrowed it down to 5 simple steps that can be applied to anyone (different topic). But what happened after I perfected my form? No more hip pain! Out of instinct, I went right back balls out training. Over the course of the next 5 years, I was smacking PR’s left and right. March 23rd 2018 is when things went downhill for me physically. I attempted a 635 DL max and the exact same thing that happened, but now my left knee, T7 and T8 are acting up too. What was wrong? My form was perfect. I had the strength to execute. My diet and sleep were on point. I simply could not understand what went wrong. So, I decided to take a month off before deadlifting again. Not only could I not deadlift anything over 225 without my hip and thoracic flaring up, but now I can’t even SQUAT!  Something was wrong. So I set up with an appointment with a chiropractor and let’s just say I wasted 6 months of my time and thousands of dollars to get nowhere.  

During the time of 6 months, all I could work on is upper body. 6 months later, I am 24 years old and STILL only hitting upper body workouts, but it gets worse. Another injury has arisen to the surface. Can you guess what? My left shoulder and left elbow. Now, I am dealing with Left knee, left hip, T7/T8, left shoulder and left elbow pain. Sharp, sharp pain. I felt hopeless.  I was down in the dumps, felt unmotivated to work out, was tired all the time, energy levels were low, appetite was thrown off, etc.. I did not even realize it until my brother Anthony asked me what was wrong. You know shits real when your brother or family member checks up on you. It made me realize that this emotional and physical battle that I am dealing with that I thought was invincible is now becoming recognized by other people.  This can no longer happen anymore; I can’t be hopeless and dig myself an even deeper hole that I have created. So, I decided to see a physical therapist. This guy seemed to be the right fit. Right away we began attacking mobility in every spot that ached. I was with him for roughly 5 months. I felt some what better, but not enough to progress to the point where I can Squat, Bench or Deadlift. Again, more money down the drain.


Joint By Joint Theory

Enough with the sob story. I became injury free once and for all. Around mid-July of 2020 is when gained the most hope in my life when I discovered, “Joint by Joint Theory.” I want to emphasize discovered as this is a concept that I did NOT come up with on my own. Anyway, I was fascinated by it and want to explain it as simple as possible for you guys. Joint by Joint Theory is a concept that should consider the entire body as a working kinetic chain rather than separate units. Let’s begin from the ground up, starting with the foot. The foot is a mechanical structure that consists of 33 joints that provide support, balance and mobility. Now, when the foot has a stability or mobility problem, it will directly affect the ankle joint. The ankle joint needs to be mobile and flexible where its primary need is mobility. When the ankle joint becomes immobile, it restricts the body during any athletic activities. When this happens, the next joint that will be affected is the knee. Going further up the chain, what will have pain next? The hips. If your hips lose loss of mobility, what begins to hurt? The back. The spine loses mobility and causes pain. Next, if not corrected will lead to shoulder pain. Again, if not corrected it will be forced to move to another joint as compensation. The elbow. Can you see how every joint in the body relates to one another? When joints within the chain become injured, loss of mobility or stability of the stable joint below or above it will give up its stability and move on as compensation.

This exact thing has happened to me. I applied what I already knew about joint by joint theory and really dug deep. If you read the story above, it all stemmed from straining my Achilles tendon when I was 13. Never thought this could be the root of my hip, lower back, thoracic spine, shoulder & elbow pain (All on the left side). Especially because I don’t have any pain in my ankle! Could this really be the last piece of the puzzle?  I did the knee drive test which helps gauge how much dorsiflexion of the ankle is present. I grabbed two 6" 2x4’s, put it up against the wall so it measures 4” away from the wall. You can gauge the distance with your eye, but I wanted the most accurate info. Next, I got down on my left knee and put my right foot against the board. From here, I bent my right knee and try to touch the wall. This was done easily with no assistance from my hands and no heel raise. I switched position and performed the test on my left ankle. It barely moved 1.5”! With the force of my hands pushing down on my knee I could get it 2” maximum before my heel came off the ground. It all began to make sense to me. Joint by Joint theory could be the source to all my problems, but I knew not to get ahead of myself.

Before I began working on my ankle mobility, I needed to come up with an end goal in how much range of motion I need to improve upon. Now before I get shit about this “You need at least 20 degrees of dorsiflexion for it to be considered in the normal range.” I don’t have a goniometer sitting in my back pocket, so in this case I am just applying commonsense! Anyway, I measured the distance of how much dorsiflexion my right ankle can achieve which was exactly 5” with no force or heel raise. I wanted this to be my end goal for my left ankle. To improve ankle mobility there are over 100’s of different exercises/stretches to choose from. I chose 3 of the basics which were:

  1. Self-myofascial release for the calf and plantar fascia with a lacrosse ball. Sometimes I would use a foam roller.
  2. Static Stretching of the calf. You know, the simple toe up against the wall. When doing this, it is important to focus on the gastrocnemius and soleus muscle. I like this one a lot because this stretch also hits the plantar fascia that runs beneath the foot due to the positioning of the big toe in extension. Simple but effective.
  3. Banded Ankle Distractions

I performed these every other day.  Within the first week I noticed the aches that were once all over my body, decline as expected.  Knee pain was the first to go, 2nd was hip pain, 3rd thoracic pain, shoulder and lastly elbow pain. Fast forward 6 weeks later, my left ankle is now at full range of motion and I am fully PAIN FREE!!! The other day was my first day back deadlifting with no discomfort. I can finally look forward to making them gainzzz. Again, I am not an expert in this field, yet.. BUT I must say that I fully stand with the joint by joint concept and will continue to apply this approach in the future. It is important to understand that each joint has its own precise role in how movements break down and injuries occur. This can help eliminate pain, but also help augment our potential to move at the highest level possible. If you are ever in the position of Injury, take a step back and do not focus on the segment in which you think you found a problem. Make sure that you have cleared everything below and above the joint of where your pain resides. 

-DJ Yatos