What is really Functional?
Each year, 600,000 knee replacements and 310,000 hip replacements are done in the U.S. Many more people are experiencing back pain and foot problems, with a majority of them stemming from non-traumatic causes. That means menial everyday tasks, like walking, are the likely culprits. Walking is controlled falling, in which falling is the easy part. Control is where is gets tricky.
As babies, we crawled using a reciprocal swing pattern–left arm and right leg forward, while pulling back with the opposite limbs. The same thing happens when we walk upright. Unconsciously, we walk with our right arm swinging forward while our left leg performs the same action. Simultaneously, the left arm and right leg are in extension. These actions cause thoracic rotation achieved by the anterior and posterior oblique systems. Thoracic rotation by way of sling systems is not only used for walking, but is also an integral part of running, throwing, chopping wood, starting a lawn mower, kicking, punching, and swinging a bat, tennis racket, or golf club.
The anterior oblique system consists of the external obliques, internal obliques, and contralateral adductors. The posterior oblique system consists of the lats working with the contralateral glutes. This makes for an efficient gait and stops inefficient lateral movements in the spine and throughout the body. A lack of thoracic rotation will cause compensations to be made in the hips, knees, and feet, causing imbalances, degeneration, and pain.
How this all works:
Anterior Oblique System: When we take a step forward with the right leg, the right internal obliques and left external obliques concentrically contract to rotate the torso to the right side. The right adductors will work with both obliques to maintain a neutral femur. The opposite phenomenon happens with the opposite leg.
Posterior Oblique System: During the pushing phase of gait, the gluteus maximus contracts and extends the leg, while the opposite latissimus dorsi muscle contracts and extends the arm. This contraction at the posterior oblique sling creates tension in the thoracolumbar fascia (lower back) that helps stabilize the side of the sacroiliac joint of whichever leg is in contact with the ground.
As walking speed increases and we start running, activation and control of the oblique systems become more pronounced in order to provide stability and mobility during high velocity movements in sporting activities, such as fighting, tennis, soccer, and hockey. The stability the slings create in the thoracolumbar fascia and sacroiliac joint creates a stable point of reference for the body to have efficient mobility without causing faulty compensation patterns.
Wait a minute! What about the squat or deadlift? You have to squat to sit and a deadlift is a functional movement to lift object from the ground! Yes, these movements are important and necessary to everyday life and the mechanics should be appropriately taught. However, in everyday life, the squat rarely goes past 90 degrees with a heavy load on the back, and when we perform the deadlift motion to lift something off the ground, that object being lifted is rarely heavy. Compared to how often we perform the motion of walking, those movements in the reality of functional everyday life are minuscule in proportion.
Food for thought: From something as primal and basic, such as crawling, to complex movements, like swinging a golf club, the full body is integrated in rotation through AOS & POS systems used. Knowing that these systems are present throughout movements that humans are designed to do should cause you to remember the S.A.I.D principle (specific adaptation to imposed demand) and re-evaluate training systems. In reality it may be more functional to put more emphasis on training and prescribing exercises that properly utilize these oblique systems that are patterns of walking to address of dysfunctional movement?
Inspired by: Functional Patterns – Naudi Aguilar
Thank You for Your Attention.
* To learn how Physical Therapy can serve you, see GetPT1st , Greg Todd , Renewal Rehab Paul Gough Physio Rooms, Aaron LeBauer , Kelly Starrett, The Movement Fix, Functional Patterns , Anatomy Trains, The Prehab Guys, Guerilla Zen Fitness , Modern Manual Therapy, Dr. Ben Fung , Andrews University Doctor of Physical Therapy
Edited: Ffrancesca Famorcan
Images: Featured image – footankleinstitute.com, resources linked in other images