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Thoughts on Reciprocal Movement

I recently completed a continuing education course taught by the Postural Restoration Institute titled “Cervical Revolution.” Talk about an amazing course! As the title implies, the course was centered around treatment for the cervical spine; however, this was not your run-of-the-mill course and focused on more than just the neck. The Postural Restoration Institute has this way of flipping conventional knowledge upside down and changing the way we as physical therapists think about the human body and it’s movement patterns.

According to their website, the Postural Restoration Institute was established "to explore and explain the science of postural adaptations, asymmetrical patterns and the influence of polyarticular chains of muscles." They operate under the following concept:

"The human body is not symmetrical. The neurological, respiratory, circulatory, muscular and vision systems are not the same on the left side of the body as they are on the right, and vice versa. They have different responsibilities, function, position and demands on them. This system asymmetry is a good thing and an amazing design. The human body is balanced through the integration of system imbalances. The torso, for example, is balanced with a liver on the right and a heart on the left. Extremity dominance is balanced through reciprocal function; i.e. left arm moves with right leg and vice versa."

Have you ever considered the fact that asymmetry is good? Now don’t get me wrong, muscle asymmetry can certainly lead to common dysfunctions that we see in the clinic today. But when you think about it, asymmetry is found in the "core" of our body. We have one heart on one side of the body. We have two lungs, one with three lobes and the other with two. We have one spleen on one side of the body. The core of our body is in fact asymmetrical and this asymmetry is essential for daily function. Yes, we have two legs, two arms, two eyes, etc, but the core of us is asymmetrical. We are symmetrically asymmetrical.

This brings me to the importance of reciprocal or alternating movement. Reciprocal movement is movement that is repetitive in a linear or rotational motion and involves (although not limited to) movement of one arm and an opposite leg to create movement. From an early age, we perform alternating movements that enable us to roll, crawl, sit, stand, and ultimately walk. These alternating patterns are essential in childhood development , yet we often neglect these alternating movements as we age. In today's day and age where technology makes our lives easy and prevents us from moving as we did in the past, it's all the more important that we perform movements and/or exercises in a reciprocal fashion, i.e. left arm moves with right leg and vice versa.

An easy way to implement reciprocal movement in you daily life is guessed it...WALK! Next time you go for a walk, focus on your body's movement pattern and make sure that when you step forward with your right leg your left arm swings forward and then alternates when you step with your left leg. Use this same pattern when you negotiate stairs or when you go for a hike. From an exercise perspective, the opportunities to create reciprocal movements are endless. A good place to start includes a single leg balance with a forward reach, a step-up with a march and overhead press, or a bird dog (all with or without resistance):

So the next time you're at home or at the gym, remember to move reciprocally. Reciprocal, or alternating, movement keeps your core strong and stable. Your core is symmetrically asymmetrical, so training it in a way that is reciprocal can encourage proper muscle balance. Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly), your neck may thank you.

For more information on the Postural Restoration Institute, check out their website at