The axial distraction mobilization techniques are frequently employed for treating patients with joint hypomobility. However, there is a lack of basic biomechanical studies and description of this procedure. The purpose of this study was to analyze humeral head displacement while performing an axial distraction mobilization of the glenohumeral joint. Twelve experienced orthopedic physical therapists participated. Distraction mobilization techniques were performed in three different positions of glenohumeral abduction on a fresh cadaveric specimen. Outcome measures were displacements of the humeral head center during distraction mobilization. Result indicated that displacement of the humeral head was largest in the resting position (27.38 mm) followed by the neutral (22.01 mm) and the end range position (9.34 mm). There were significant differences for both the displacement of the humeral head (p < 0.002) and the distraction forces used (p < 0.015) among the three joint positions. Greater gain in mobility was obtained in distraction at the end range position. In conclusion, during distraction mobilization, the force applied by the therapist and displacement of the humeral head depends on the joint position tested. Our results also provide rationales for choosing end range distraction mobilization for improving joint mobility.
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