Why Rotational Movement or Twisting?
Being that there are no straight lines in the human body – all joints articulate with some degree of rotation. Therefore, it makes sense that we train to achieve our highest range of motion training with continuous circular/spiraling movement patterns, promoting communication and connection between the muscles, tendons, connective tissues (fascia) and the joints within the body.
- Range of motion (ROM) and strength in the body;
- Joint health to avoid wear, tear and injury;
- Balance and symmetry;
- Distribution of forces throughout the joints;
- Back health by reducing compression and pain;
- Flexibility of muscles surrounding the spine by opening the chest, shoulders and back;
- Core abdominal strength for support in loaded rotations;
- Sense of self – we feel calmer and more centered.
Rotational movement or “Twisting” is involved in a variety of functional, everyday movements. Rotational movement provides joint stimulation and helps transfer force, or energy in your spine, shoulders, hips, forearms, foot and ankle joints. So, when you are walking, running, swinging a golf club, getting out of a chair, lifting and reaching, these movements transfer weight or force through multiple joints and planes.
Optimal Spinal or Trunk Rotation Requires Symmetry + Balanced Rotation
Pain-free movement comes with symmetry and balanced rotation between all of the spinal segments. Optimal spinal rotation comes with symmetry, where the ribs sit in line with the pelvis and we isolate movement in the spine or torso with a stable pelvis. Shari Berkowitz, a Pilates teacher trainer who holds a Master’s of Sciences degrees in Ergonomics and Biomechanics from NYU, gives further details on the support we need with movement for the back body. To stabilize the pelvis and support the low back, both front and back body must work in unison. In Shari’s latest course I attended online, she reviewed how the transversus abdominals (low abdominals below your navel) and your internal obliques which when engaged, together they pull on the thoraco-lumbar fascia (TLF) in your back. She states that, “The TLF resists that pull, lengthening. This resultant tension creates a stiffness of the lumbar spine that affords the muscles connected to it greater ability to add to the stability or create mobility. This is very efficient.” As in my last article on tensegrity, efficiency of movement comes through appropriate tension or tone to match the anticipated load.
Thoracic Spinal Mobility Limits Shoulder, Neck and Back Pain
Those that lack mobility through their mid-back or thoracic spine are subject to more injuries involving the shoulders and neck, as well as having an increased prevalence of low back pain.
Spinal Rotation Facts
Understanding the amount of rotational ability we have within the spine and what influences and informs joint rotation as below, we can see how important thoracic spinal mobility is for functional movement.
- The Neck a.k.a. Cervical Spine rotates the most, up to 90 degrees of rotation to both sides. (Essential for that ‘shoulder-check’ when backing up your car!);
- The Mid-back a.k.a. Thoracic Spine rotates moderately, between 30- 35 degrees of rotation;
- The low back: The Lumbar at .08 degrees of rotation has a very limited ROM and movement between the spinal segments
Limited Thoracic Spinal Consequences
If the thoracic spine does not rotate as well as it should, the lumbar spine is forced to rotate more, which could cause low back pain or injury. As Bogduk (2005) describes, “rotation of more than 3° at any lumbar segment could damage the articular surface and tear collagen fibers that make up the disc between each vertebra of the spine”.
Joint Rotation Influences
- Shoulder Rotation is influenced by tight pecs (chest) upper traps and weak lats (mid-back);
- Hip Rotation is influenced by hip and pelvic structure, life-style and posture;
- Forearm Rotation informs the wrists, shoulders + mid-back to engage supporting the head, neck and shoulders;
- Foot + Ankle Rotation influences one’s gait, femur bones, knees and walking patterns.
Pilates + Fascial Release Helps Increase Thoracic Rotation and Joint Mobility
Pilates is an effective modality to improve thoracic flexion, extension and rotation. Dynamic stretching on both mat and machines integrates both stability and mobility in the mid-back whilst increasing its strength and flexibility.
From the short box rotational series to the side twist, or single arm twist around the world to the split peddle chair or twisting on the rotator discs, we are rarely in need of more reformer repertoire that twists our spine and rotates our joints.
On the mat, the 2-knee twist and the pin-wheel focus on the thoracic rotation of the spine. The Ronde de Jambe on our backs, move the femur bones with the pelvis in a hip twist, keeping our hip joints mobile whilst massaging our SI joints!
Adding fascial release work with body-rolling balls not only helps break up tight fascia (the saran-wrap around our muscles), it improves our thoracic spine mobility because we are keeping our connective tissues malleable.
If we stay in tune with our natural bone algorithms and include all forms of rotation, we will inevitably improve our alignment, range of motion and functional, everyday movements as we move with freedom, ease and strength!