Sunday, July 24, 2016

8 Key Elements to a Well-BALANCED Life: "L" is for....

When I first hear the word Locomotion, I think of a train, or the hit song by Grand Funk Railroad, with the ultra-cheesy 1987 version by Kylie Minogue. When I asked my husband Bryan the first word that came to his mind he said, "engine". According to, locomotion means "movement, or the ability to move from one place to another."  It is interesting to think about how far locomotion has come, especially since before we invented all sorts of means for locomotion (boats, horse and buggy, hot air balloons, trains, bikes, automobiles, planes, etc) all we had were our bodies to get us around from place to place. As technology continues to advance exponentially over the years, our body's biomechanics have pretty much stayed the same. Unfortunately, along with the reliance on these efficient machines for locomotion, we are relying less on our own body's ability to get us around. We don't think twice about staying up to date with our car's regular oil changes, tire rotations, transmission or radiator flushes, and air filter replacements so we can prevent inconvenient break-downs and extend the life of our vehicle (which is usually only about 10-12 years). Why is it then, that we as humans usually wait until we have a "breakdown" to do something about our human "vehicle?" Our body is our ONLY vehicle for locomotion for our lifetime (which is usually about 80-90 years, if we are lucky these days). We may have the medical advancements to receive new body parts, such as new joints and new valves for instance, but our body is so much happier to simply maintain the body we were given at birth.  

The very first way we as humans learn to move around from place to place is through rolling. This very important developmental milestone prepares our core muscles for other more advanced locomotion activities. We roll from our back to our stomach, and from our stomach to our back. Remember putting your baby on their stomach for "Tummy Time?" How much did your baby like that? Mine did not! As a new mom, it broke my heart to hear Liam fuss and cry when he was on his belly, so I didn't usually keep him there too long initially (even though I'm a PT and know better...). That is hard work for a baby to maintain that position and hold up their huge head. But with practice and repetition, they get it, and then they roll over. The spinal extensor muscles, that run along both sides of the back of the spine, are so important for ultimately keeping us upright against gravity. Our abdominal and core muscles get a great workout rolling us over from our back onto our tummy. Rolling is a great way for babies and adults to train all the muscles in the spine, trunk and limbs. 

Try it now for yourself. See how it feels to roll from your back to your stomach, then from your stomach to your back. Roll to your right, then roll to your left. How different, easy, or difficult do each of these feel?  Tummy time and rolling are activities that I recommend for grown adults, as the spinal extensor and core muscles are some of the weakest muscles I find with many of my clients. 

Crawling integrates even more of our body's core muscles with the reciprocal movement of our arms and legs to get us around from place to place. This is a much more complicated activity for our brain to orchestrate.  Our hands, wrists, feet and ankles move into new ranges of motion and provide information about the surfaces underneath us as we move about. The muscles and joints throughout our core, hip, and shoulder get stronger as we carry more of our body's weight around from place to place. Our neck gets stronger as we hold our head up to look where we are going. 

Ready to give it a try? Crawl forward, backward, and side to side. How far and fast can you go? Can you feel your shoulder blade muscles and core engage? How do your wrists and knees feel? Thank goodness we learned to walk! 

Walking is the most complicated activity that our brains have to manage. This is why humans are the only species who can walk around upright on 2 feet for as long as we can. We need strength, control, balance, proprioception (sensing where you are in space) and endurance to walk from place to place. The arches in our feet are meant to be able to absorb shock as well as push off the ground to move us forward. Our arm swings back as the opposite leg is behind the body to maintain our balance and keep our head neutral, so our eyes remain level with the horizon as we move about. Our spine stacks on top of itself and supports the trunk rotation from right to left. Walking allows us to move efficiently from place to place. 

As a Physical Therapist, Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT) Specialist, and Healthy Foot Practitioner, I often work with clients who have pain while walking. Whether the pain is in their foot, knee, hip, shoulder, back or neck, they are amazed that when they have their unique muscle imbalances identified and corrected, then practice rolling and crawling, the pain is reduced when they walk. 

How are you feeling about your body's locomotion?  Being able to move around comfortably and efficiently while rolling, crawling and walking will help you extend the life of your vehicle. It may be time to take your vehicle in for a tune-up.  

Move Well!