July 2012 Newsletter - Volume 4 by W. Patterson, MD


Watching for contralaterality in someone’s movement will give you a quick general assessment of their basic flexibility and the fluidity in their coordination. Contralaterality requires use of opposing and balancing body parts, typically on opposite sides of the midline. Left leg and right arm or right hip and left shoulder are good examples. A closer look reveals the lumbar spine turning to the right, thoracic spine turning to the left, cervical spine turning to the right, skull slightly turning to the left.

The body is ingenious in its design. Contralaterality is an energy saving mechanism. As one walks, there are alternating spirals that develop. These motions twist through the fascia, pulling it toward its physiologic limit. As the next step occurs, the opposing spiral loads up like a spring as the first spiral releases its stored tension. Less muscular effort is required during each step as the unloading of the stored fascial and ligamentous tension aids the motion.

When we walk forward, our sternum slightly precedes us. This places the thoracic center of gravity ahead of the pelvic center of gravity. Therefore, we are falling forward slightly as we walk forward. Gravity pulls these masses and the inherent spiraling action loads the ligaments and fascia.

The faces of the joint surfaces in our feet, ankles, knees, pelvis and spine naturally define and guide these spiraling motions. If such motions are restricted, pain is frequently a result.

Contralaterality is a mammalian function. Reptiles use a homolateral means of propulsion. They tend to flex their spine side to side and move their shoulder closer to their hip on the concave side of their spine and shoulder and hip away from each other on the convex side. Mammals spiral the backbone alternately through the lumbar, thoracic and cervical spines. This thoracic and lumbar spiraling is the foundation for shoulder and pelvic motion.

If you look at somebody walking from behind, you see the material of their shirt moving in alternating criss cross lines. The more defined the motion of the shirt material, the better the contralaterality in their walking. With practice, you can determine how much holding a person does in their hip or shoulder girdle, or their spine, or if they move fluidly from their feet through their head.

Practicing finding and perhaps accentuating your sense of contralateral motion will improve your coordination very quickly.









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