Weekly musings, 6/10/18: Synergistic movement

Weekly musings, 6/10/18: Synergistic movement
In the book, “Human Motor Control, second edition,” by David Rosenbaum, he writes, “Simultaneous flexion of the wrist and elbow is easier than flexion of the wrist and extension of the elbow, or extension of the wrist and flexion of the elbow.” Simply put, it is more natural to bend the elbow while the wrist bends the fingers towards the upper arm than it is to bend the elbow while the wrist extends the fingers away from the upper arm.

You are structured to move via a series of synergistic movements. When you step, as the body moves over the foot, the foot flattens a little bit, the lower leg rotates in, and the upper leg rotates in. As you prepare to toe off and propel your body forward, the situation reverses. It happens automatically, without you thinking about it. 

Sometimes, traumatic injuries happen, or we are told to hold ourselves a specific way, or we stop doing specific movements and our bodies lose touch with these synergistic patterns. These patterns allow efficiency for things like walking and reaching, but moving the uncoordinated way occasionally is okay, too. It’s just that when the uncoordinated way becomes the default pattern, efficiency is lost, making basic activities a little more challenging. 

How can you determine whether you are moving in ways that are synergistic or not? Try doing the opposite of what you normally do once in a while. How does it feel? When you straighten your elbow and bend your wrist, what happens? What about when you straighten your elbow and extend your wrist? How does it feel to let your weight be in the outsides of your feet when you are standing? What happens if you place the weight on the insides of your feet? How does your lower leg rotate when you place weight on the outside of your feet? What happens if you move your lower leg the other direction? How does that feel?

Slowing down and feeling the different ways the bones can organize during movement tasks gives your nervous system options. It helps the nervous system determine what the most efficient way to perform different skills actually is, and it reminds you, the participant, that there is more than one way to perform a task.