Controlled Articular Rotations (CARs)

by | Apr 7, 2023 | Blog

Step #1 in taking care of your joints is doing the thing that takes care of your joints directly and specifically.

And that looks like a daily movement routine or daily movement practice, with the intention of moving each joint through its full range of motion (all the ways it moves).

We call these movements CARs.

What Are CARs?

CARs stands for Controlled Articular Rotations.

Controlled: mindful, intentional movement so you can learn what it’s like to move your hip without your spine helping and spine without your shoulders joining in. This is what makes these different from just swinging your arms around in a circle – CARs are not just joint circles.

Articular: the fancy term for a joint, where 2 or more bones come together or meet. Fun fact about joints: their entire purpose is to allow movement; if they weren’t supposed to move, they would have just been a continuous bone – this is why movement is so key to keeping joints healthy.

Rotations: the shape of all joints is curved; so when we move through all the options tracing the shape of each joint, the movements end up looking like a circle; hence the term “rotation.”

The main idea behind CARs is moving every single joint through its full range of motion (slowly and with control) to ensure that each part of the joint gets movement.

While that may sound like it would take for-eh-verrrrrr, a full-body express CARs routine only takes about 8-10 minutes per day.

Why Are CARs Important?

As time passes, our bodies age. Much of the aging process can be attenuated with effort, which is why we have guidelines around our health – eating to support our bodies, exercising, sleeping enough, etc.

Our joints are no exception to the aging process. Over time, we become less flexible and more stiff as we explore less and less of our ranges of motion. Our bodies adapt to what we do or don’t do (more on that in Blog #1).

If we don’t explore and challenge ourselves, we lose access to those ranges of motion and movements over time as our bodies adapt, and our ranges of motion become less. We succumb to the aging process.

When we lose our ranges of motion and strength, we also stop getting good nutrients into our joints (our joints don’t have great blood supply, so movement is necessary to get nutrients into our joints). When things get less nutrients, they become less healthy and more susceptible to injury, arthritis, etc.

This is all expected as we move less and as time passes/we get older. Those who exercise slow this down tremendously which is great, but many times traditional fitness doesn’t quite get every joint moving, or leaves out some ranges of motion.

This is where CARs (and mobility training in general) comes in.

Benefits of CARs

There are a ton of benefits of CARs, but these are the main ones I focus on with my clients:

Improved Joint Health:

As described above, CARs are how we get nutrients into your joints to keep them healthy

Range of Motion Maintenance:

Maintaining what you have requires effort. Think of CARs as your daily reminder to your body that you’d like to continue accessing these positions and keep them as movement options.

Improved Body Awareness & Proprioception:

Every time you go through intentional movement through your full range of motion, you’re practicing the communication from your brain to your joints and over time your awareness and control will improve.

Decreased Pain Sensitivity:

As long as you’re not pushing through pain, the movement you’re doing is increasing your pain threshold of that joint and many of the muscles that surround it, meaning you’ll be less likely to experience pain with things you normally would.

Decreased Fibrosis:

As we get older and especially after injuries, our tendons, ligaments, fascia, etc. can become thick and inflexible and more susceptible to pain. CARs help us communicate to our cells to lay down healthy, flexible collagen instead of fibrotic tissues. (more about that in this podcast episode on tissue remodeling).

Decreased Inflammation:

Movement is one of the best natural anti-inflammatories we have. CARs are a great tool for anything that feels stiff or achey in addition to using them as a daily movement routine for maintenance.

Screening & Autoregulation Tool:

Developing a CARs practice helps us learn how to check-in with our bodies – an invaluable tool. This can help us learn what our baseline feels like to then compare on a daily basis to know if we are under-recovering and need to adjust our workouts/recovery, notice if a joint needs a little more attention or help, and implement behaviors accordingly before a major injury occurs. The ultimate injury mitigation* tool.

(*The term injury mitigation is used instead of prevention because we cannot prevent injuries; we can only decrease their frequency & severity and how long their recovery takes.)

Improved Mindfulness:

Mindfulness & meditation or 2 very important skills for overall health and well-being, especially for anyone with persistent pain. CARs allow us to focus on our bodies in the present moment and begin to learn how to listen to our bodies, which is a great entry-level form of meditation.

Tips for Doing CARs

When it comes to a new habit like CARs, the most important thing is doing them frequently. Life gets in the way often, but the more consistent you can be, the better you’ll feel. In addition, you’ll want to make your movements small at first so they’re only at the one joint you’re trying to move, before you try to go bigger and reach for more.

The other most important thing is to make sure you don’t push through pinching, a lot of pain, or closing angle sensations (these are explained more in my downloadable CARs Guide).

Many people get caught up in the details of when to do them or thinking that doing them “wrong” is bad when first beginning CARs. But those things only serve as barriers to getting them done. Do them when you can and remember that your CARs don’t need to be perfect – the practice of doing them is the entire point. It’s a learning PROCESS. Even doing them less optimally with compensations is better than not doing them at all (as long as they’re not causing any pain).

Final reminder: This is a behavior or habit that you’ll be adding to your daily life, so remember it’ll take time before it feels ‘second nature’. Check out the book Atomic Habits for more on creating habits that stick.

How to Get Started

Grab a copy of my downloadable CARs Guide with links to a few different routines you can follow along with + videos that break down the basic CARs for each joint, common compensations to lookout for, and closing angle sensations to avoid.

While you’re here, join my email list for all the updates on new blogs and podcasts, and be the first to know about any and all discounts, announcements, and sales.

A photo of Dr. Jen Hosler standing with a barbell instructing the deadlift.

Hi, I'm Dr. Jen Hosler.

I’m a bookworm, science nerd, and coach of all things movement (physical therapist and strength & mobility coach). You can catch me sleeping in & having a slow morning, doing CARs & lifting heavy things, or sipping a glass of wine on my time off.

Through a blend of strength & mobility training, I’ll help you master your movement & build a more resilient body that won’t hold you back from all the activities you love doing.

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