Spine pain and arm swing. Do you truly get this ? You had better.

We have all seen that runner who swings the one  arm more than the other, they may even violently thrust the one arm across the front of the torso. If you have been a spectator half way through any race you have seen this person. And, if you are watching carefully in your gym, lab, office or gait lab  you have seen the accentuated arm swing on one side (or is it the loss of arm swing on the opposite, we discussed some of these games in last weeks blog post here). You have also see the person who is running with a water bottle in their hand and altering their neurological arm-leg swing opposite pairing and thus their anti-phasic shoulder-pelvic girdle pairing (see attached photo). (If you are lost when we discuss the terms phasic and anti-phasic you will want to go and read this previous blog post.

Knowing that which you are seeing in your client is their highest level of neurologic motor compensation, and not likely their problem, represents a higher thought process in a diagnostician. Unfortunately, it also opens a whole bunch of clinical thought process mental gymnastics. 

Our purpose of today’s blog post is to revisit an important aspect of the clinical examination, observation.  Listening and watching (and knowing what you are seeing, and not seeing) are two of the biggest pieces of a clinical exam other than the hands on assessments. One has to be good at all of the pieces.  But then their is the knowledge base that is needed to base the information and choices upon so that the proper path to remedy can be chosen.  Without the knowledge the actions and choices can be dramatically incorrect and devastating to an athlete or client/patient.  Make the wrong choice for a patient and they do not get better, perhaps even get worse. Make the wrong choice for an athlete and you deepen their compensation and increase their risk for injury.  This is one of our pet peeves because we recognize that we have a deep knowledge base and yet we find ourselves without the certainty and answers on a regular basis and yet we see people making similar choices for clients and athlete with only a small piece of the knowledge necessary on their table to make those choices.  If you don’t know what you don’t know, and yet your still swimming in the risky waters, you are already in deep trouble. 

Here are two articles that you should be familiar with. We talk about them in depth in our “arm swing” online course #317 here.  These articles talk about phasic and antiphasic motions of the arms and shoulder-pelvic blocks.  They talk about spine pain and how spine pain clients reduce the antiphasic rotational (axial) nature of the shouder girdle and pelvic girdle. They elude to the subcortial pattern of choice to rotate them as a solid unit to reduce spine rotation, axial loading and compression and that spine pain disables the normal arm-leg pendulums.  If you do not know and  understand these principles, and you are training, treating or coaching people, you are a problem waiting to happen for your client. You, are the problem and your choices could likely hurt your client.  IF you do not know how to address them or fix them safely, it is your job to send them to someone who does. 

So the next time you see an aberrant arm swing, during your exam, your observations and your history better delve into all things relevant. How about that 20 year “healed” ankle fracture that your client dismisses as “oh, but that was 20 years ago, its not part of this problem i am having now”.  How about that episode of frozen shoulder that was “fixed” 15 years ago or that episode of hip or knee pain from falling on ice or the random big toe pain or the headaches ?  If they dismiss all of this because they are just coming to see you for spine pain or because their running partner says their arm swing stinks on the right you had better sit down for a longer ride, because you  know better now.  Unless you prefer to see life through tunnel vision. Sure it is easier, but don’t you want more for your client ?

Sorry for the rant.

Shawn and Ivo, …… the gait guys.

1. Eur Spine J. 2011 Mar;20(3):491-9. doi: 10.1007/s00586-010-1639-8. Epub 2010 Dec 24.
Gait adaptations in low back pain patients with lumbar disc herniation: trunk coordination and arm swing.  Huang YP et al.
2. J Biomech. 2012 Jan 10;45(2):342-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2011.10.024. Epub 2011 Nov 10.

Mechanical coupling between transverse plane pelvis and thorax rotations during gait is higher in people with low back pain.