The Hruska Clinic Integrator

Old blog on Figure 8 Walking as presented at Advanced Integration last week

Old blog on Figure 8 Walking as presented at Advanced Integration last week

Eight is Great to Alternate! (and Reciprocate!)

“We must pass through neutral to alternate.”-Ron Hruska

Probably one of the most asked questions asked here between therapists when talking about patients is “Are they Neutral?” Our first goal when starting a Postural Restoration program with anyone is to make sure they are neutral in their postural patterns. But what does that really mean? It is one of the most difficult things for us to define yet we strive for it every day. There are many definitions of the word neutral; from the political sense of being not aligned with either side in a dispute (think Switzerland), from the chemical sense of being neither acidic nor alkalinic, or having a net charge of zero (neither positive or negative), or from the mechanical sense of being in a position where the gears are disengaged (think about putting your car in neutral). But what does that really mean in terms of getting a human body or postural pattern in a neutral position? I love the last definition above of putting your body in a position where the gears (or muscles) are disengaged (relaxed) and can rest. If you are stuck in first gear your gears (muscles) never disengage and cannot idle (rest or relax). However, today I want to think about neutral as being in a position or state where you can move easily (without compensation) in any direction from that starting point. If you are stuck in a postural position oriented to the right you can go to the right easily but must work harder to go to the left. Think about having a car with a bad alignment that pulls you to the right or toward the ditch. If you aren’t constantly working the steering wheel back to the left you will end up in the ditch so you can never relax and cruise. In this car even straight line driving takes some effort. However, going around a curve to the right will be really easy, but you will have to work twice as hard to go around a curve to the left. If your car’s alignment is good (i.e. it is in a neutral starting position) straight driving will be effortless as far as your effort for steering is concerned, and curves to the left or right should feel just as easy.

But as human beings, that a) don’t have wheels and roll, we walk, b) have limbs that can move independently of each other and c) aren’t even built symmetrically, are we ever really neutral? Think about it. When we walk we are constantly shifting our weight from the right leg to the left and swinging arms forward and backward and rotating our trunks from side to side. When are we ever in that neutral position? The real answer is probably never but when we rest or idle we should be in a position where muscles can disengage and we could move any direction without significant compensation.

That was a rather long introduction to get to what I really wanted to talk about which is a continuation of my last blog on walking in circles. I hope that the above discussion will help make this next part make a little more sense. To recap my last blog I talked about how walking clockwise or counter-clockwise can be used to emphasize and practice the more difficult movements of our normal human patterns as long as we make the conscious effort to do so.

For example walking counter-clockwise emphasizing a longer stride with the right leg can facilitate the left AFIR or hip shift position that is mechanically more difficult than the right hip shift position. Conversely, walking clockwise with emphasis on left arm swing forward can facilitate the more difficult right upper trunk rotation position that is more biomechanically challenging than left upper trunk rotation (right arm reach) for the normal human pattern. Depending on the specific needs of the person we are working with clockwise or counter-clockwise walking can be a great activity. Now think about that car we talked about above, if it is constantly going around curves to the right, or to the left for that matter, is it neutral? Could you actually tell? Not really. Our ultimate goal for people we work with (even if they are neutral in their starting position) is to be able to move in any direction without compensation. That means being able to move to the right or to the left or go clockwise or counter-clockwise. So ultimately instead of working on just clockwise or counter-clockwise walking I want to have people work on walking in a Figure 8 pattern which incorporates both the clockwise and counterclockwise direction.

Imagine having 2 cones or pylons about 10 feet apart. One pylon is near to you and the other is further out ahead of you. If you start on the left side of the near pylon and then cross over to the right side of the far pylon and then go around that far pylon counterclockwise to start your figure 8 pattern when you get to the near pylon you will walk clockwise around that pylon and then cross over and go counter clockwise around the far pylon. As a dynamic activity to perform I would then ask someone I am working with to emphasize right leg swing as they go around the far pylon to encourage the left AFIR pattern and then as they transition to the near pylon to go to a clockwise direction they would have to start to emphasize left arm swing forward to encourage right trunk rotation and back and forth. This now is alternating and reciprocal gait on a number of levels. The hardest part of this activity is the transition point in the middle of the 2 pylons where you change from clockwise to counter-clockwise walking. This is the point of neutrality. We’re not there for long, and it is the most challenging position to think about that transition from counter-clockwise to clockwise or from thinking about encouraging left AFIR to encouraging right trunk rotation. The better we get at that transition period of neutrality the better we’ll be at maintaining the ability to become truly alternating and reciprocal in our movements. See the handout for more details. Have a great day!