Keep your movement like clockwork: Get your spinal mobility in gear
Last month we discussed the idea of centration at various joints (i.e., at the shoulder and hips). Joint centration is key to biomechanical load and transition of forces throughout the body for everything from static seated posture to throwing a ball and walking. This month we’ll expand on this concept to explore the mechanical function and neuromuscular control of spinal stability and proximal joint centration of the shoulder and pelvic girdle. Walking or throwing a ball are perfect examples of combined shoulder and pelvic girdle mobility with coordinated rotational stability of the spine.
Our bodies consistently and harmoniously transition between ipsilateral and contralateral patterns throughout the day. Activities such as getting out of the car or throwing a ball are considered ipsilateral movement patterns, meaning all coordinated motion is occurring on one side of the body. Imagine getting out of the car as you step to the left and push the door open with the left hand. All one sided. In contrast, contralateral patterns are involved in activities like crawling, walking, and running. During these activities, our opposing arm and leg are moving into flexion as the opposite extremities are moving into extension. Think of reciprocal movements. These ever demanding transition of functions are governed by motor control and the ability to transfer forces effectively throughout our musculoskeletal system.
Imperative for both ipsilateral and contralateral patterns of the extremities is spinal rotation, specifically rotation of the thoracic spine. Remember that the anatomy of the facet joints and the vertebral composition of the thoracic spine are meant to rotate. The thoracic region also creates protection of vital viscera and a sound base of support for the core muscles including the diaphragm, transversus abdominis, external and internal oblique and the segmental rotator muscles of the spine. The thoracic region is the intersection of muscles from the upper limbs, head, neck and pelvis. Without rotation of the thoracic spine at this intersection of muscle we would be limited with any activity requiring forward projection.
To simplify the concept, imagine gears of a clock and the intricate function of the gears’ teeth with the opposing gears. The clock will only work with precise function and coordination of the gears turning in time. If just one gear’s timing, teeth or mobility are compromised, then the clock will run slow or cease to function. The same idea applies to the rotation of our thoracic spine and the surrounding musculature of the oblique chains of the trunk in terms of keep us moving.
The Whole Time
Joint centration at the spinal levels is not only a necessity for healthy movement, it sets up the body to achieve effective load transfer throughout the myofascial system. When we think about movements, like walking or throwing, the rotation of the thoracic spine is a collection of “gears” that must be considered and addressed to produce safe and pain free movement anywhere throughout the body.
Spinal rotation in the thoracic region and the associated muscle contractions produce forces that can be transmitted through other muscles in a related anatomical sling. Gracovetsky and other movement practitioners like Thomas Myers and Diane Lee have published works related to anatomy slings (or myofascial slings) and promotion of spinal rotation and muscular efficiency. In Diane Lee’s book, The Pelvic Girdle, she states, “a ‘hole’ or weakness of a component in any of these systems can create dysfunction and resulting poor performance and/or injury”.
The anterior oblique sling consists of the adductors, internal obliques and opposite oblique muscles, and potentially the pectoralis major and serratus anterior to balance the top and bottom halves of the body through the trunk. If we look at the gait cycle, the anterior oblique sling provides stability to the supporting leg and balances the forces of the swinging leg. The same can be said for the upper extremity pattern during gait. Studies show that walking and running speeds demand greater activation of the anterior oblique sling with increasing forces through the thoracic spine.
In rotational sports like baseball or tennis, the anterior sling contributes to governing directional changes and distributing the forces through the abdominal wall. Isometric training like the Pallof Press or planks can help strengthen just a piece of the oblique sling. Utilizing the entire sling with a dynamic movement allows the body to create more robust changes and accommodate the energy transfer throughout the sling.
So why is it so important to have joint centration and rotational stability of the spine? The answer is regional interdependence. Regional Interdependence is the concept coined by Wainner et al (2007), describing the idea that “unrelated impairments in a remote anatomical region may contribute to, or be associated with, the patient’s primary complaint”. For example, research promotes treatment of the thoracic spine for patients with complaints of neck and shoulder pain. Also, treatment for lower quarter dysfunction, including knee pain with associated low back pain demonstrated greater outcomes by addressing hip stability and mechanics.
Think back to the gears of a clock. If just one is out of sync then the system changes. The same is true for our body. Movement training and correction need to account for the various system interactions and interdependencies necessary for musculoskeletal function.
This month’s move, considers the anterior oblique chain and how to improve the interplay between the upper and lower girdles through the thoracic spine. By weight bearing in a contralateral pattern, this exercise in coordination with the WAV, stimulates the eccentric length and strength of the shoulder and pelvic girdles to effectively transfer energy through the thoracic spine. Your motion should be fluid like the WAV- working in unison the same as gears in a clock.
Joint centration with trunk rotation in a half-kneel paddle is great for the everyday mover or athletes, especially in throwing or racquet sports, to understand the complex coordination of interdependence and the anatomy chains. By adding trunk rotation to centrated pelvic and shoulder girdles you will feel the forces move from the shoulder to the opposing hip and foot.
In no time, your brain-body connection will be ticking along efficiently. Try this and let us know what you learn!
Half kneel holding the WAV with an overhand grip at the outer bands.
Reach your arms out at chest height grounding your torso to your pelvis.
Rotate your torso to one side while tipping the WAV back in a paddling motion.
Rotate back the opposite direction toward the back leg limiting movement of your hips
Continue to rotate your trunk as you paddle. Notice if the fluid completes its movement before your torso.
Switch legs and repeat.
What am I doing?
Half kneeling is a great way to stimulate pelvic mobility for activities like walking and throwing. This move coordinates the rotational concentric and eccentric function of the abdominal wall, shoulder girdle and pelvic girdles to sustain centration in the ball and socket joints while allowing the forces to be evenly distributed throughout the trunk.
What am I mindful of?
As you rotate, does your foot including big toe, little toe and both sides of the heel remain in contact with the ground?
Does the liquid in the WAV move faster or slower than your trunk rotation?
Is your trunk ROM (range of motion) symmetrical on each side or do you feel limited in one direction?
References for the DNS, sports rehabilitation and gait mechanics discussed in this article can be found here:
- Clare Frank, DPT, OCS, FAAOMPT, Alena Kobesova, MD, PhD, Pavel Kolar, PT, PhD. Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization and Sports Rehabilitation, International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 2013 Feb; 8(1): 62–73
- Oliver, J., Middleditch, A., (1991), Functional Anatomy of the Spine, Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford
- Lee, D; Vleeming, A; Jones, M. The Pelvic Girdle: An Integration of Clinical Expertise and Research. Edinburgh: Elsevier/Churchill Livingstone, 2011.
- Basmajian, JV. Muscles Alive: Their Functions Revealed by Electromyography, Second Edition. Baltimore,: Williams & Wilkins, 1967.
- Wainner, Robert S., et al. "Regional interdependence: a musculoskeletal examination model whose time has come." Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy 37(11):658-60 Dec. 2007
Want to know more about using the WAV in your physical therapy or athletic training practice? Contact us for more information about our sensory-based training approach.