We have a remarkable relationship with gravity. Not only does gravity keep us rooted to the planet, but its force plays a primary role in helping us to develop the muscles we need in order to achieve and maintain our status as upright beings. As infants, we use information that comes in through our eyes and through our vestibular system to begin to orient and align our heads in a vertical plane in relation to gravity. Our head righting reflexes and labyrinthine righting reflexes help us to adjust our head positions so that we can begin to see the world from a vertically aligned posture.
As infants, our senses of touch and proprioception give us feedback that helps us to know where our bodies are in space, so that we can successfully push up on our arms and then our legs, as we prepare for upright sitting and walking. However, once again, gravity is essential for developing the muscles that we need for these upright tasks.
Astronauts who are in a weightless environment begin to lose this internal orientation of where their bodies are in space, because they cannot feel their own weight on the floor or on sitting surfaces, nor can they push off on these surfaces without traversing through space. Astronauts who spend extended time in a weightless environment lose significant muscle and bone strength. Their daily exercises of at least two hours must include resistive equipment such as bungie cords, because gravity is no longer available to provide a force against which their muscles can work.
Thus we can see that gravity plays a huge role in helping us to develop and to maintain the muscle strength that allows us to function as upright beings.
As the infant begins to lift his or her head against the pull of gravity, the normal curves of the spine begin to become established in the neck. These normal curves continue to form in the low back when the toddler begins to pull him or herself up to stand. When toddlers take their first independent walking steps, they try to cope with limited balance abilities by seeking greater stability through a wide base of support with their feet held far apart, and arms raised up in a high guard posture.
Our skeletal muscles continue to develop in strength and coordinated movement until we become tall upright beings who gracefully maneuver on a comparatively small base of support. When our balance becomes challenged, like infants, we tend to seek stability by becoming wider and shorter again. For example, if one is standing on the deck of a boat rocked by waves, one might widen one’s stance (and effectively become wider and shorter) or one might add a third point of support by reaching for a railing (becoming wider). Standing with our feet further apart also helps us to lower our center of gravity, a strategy that provides us with increased stability.
In order for our muscles to work properly to keep us in an upright posture, all the parts must be stacked up correctly, much like a child’s tower of building blocks. The bottom blocks in the tower must support the higher ones. Even if just one block is slightly displaced, all the blocks placed above it must then be adjusted, usually in a zigzag counterbalancing fashion in order to keep the tower from falling over. In effect, the tower becomes wider, as the blocks become stacked in this zigzag pattern.
In our bodies, such a zig zag counterbalancing effect is often achieved by the contraction of muscles, the shortening of body heights, a lower center of gravity and a wider base of support. This can look like a tendency to stand with your feet further apart or turned slightly outward, or your arms might be held slightly away from your body. When this happens, muscles can start to hurt and become sore, because they are no longer working in the coordinated fashion for which they are meant. Some muscles can become overdeveloped because they are working too hard, and others can become underdeveloped because they are no longer being asked to support the body in their originally intended manner.
Additionally, while a wider stance might provide a feeling of more stability, it also creates a need for increased weight shifting to occur before mobility is possible. For example, if a person is standing with feet wide apart, a step forward with one foot will first require a complete weight shift onto the opposite foot, reducing the efficiency of good balance.
Even if people are trying to strengthen their muscles by exercising or working out in a gym, the desired outcomes can be less successful if the building blocks of support are displaced. It’s all about gravity. Our muscles are constantly responding to the powerful force of gravity, and our bodies will do everything possible to keep us upright against this pull, even if the muscles are working incorrectly.
This could mean, for example, that if a person has tightness in the lower abdominal area, with resultant shortening in the front of the torso, the muscles in the person’s back might start to work more diligently to hold the person upright. Consequently, the back muscles might begin to hurt. The real source of the problem in this case would be the muscle or fascial restrictions in the lower abdominal area. When the abdominal restriction is eased, the building block tower becomes more properly stacked, and the back muscles no longer need to manage the previous imbalance by working so hard. And then pain often goes away.
Knowing that the body wants to stay in equilibrium and wants to maintain mobility, a BioSynchronistics practitioner can assist in the body’s natural ability to heal itself by assisting the postural rebalancing.
ESI Wellness, the first step in ProActive Injury Prevention, is the only truly proactive symptom management service that eliminates injuries by correcting postural imbalances that are contributing to painful symptoms. To learn more about the ESI Wellness Program, review our Capabilities Statement, and watch video testimonials from General Managers, supervisors, employees and Union Stewards, click here.
Author credit: Pat Joyce, OT