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Let's Talk About Your Front Legs! by Noah Karrasch

Posted by: Emma on: 31/01/2017

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Let’s Talk About Your Front Legs!

By Noah Karrasch, developer of CORE® Bodywork

I’ve been doing bodywork for 30 years now, and have learned quite a few things over the years. Primary among them: I know so little! But the good news is, I continue to be blessed with curiosity and therefore feel that I’m still learning every day, to the benefit of both me and my clients. If or when one stops being curious, frankly, I wish they’d leave the helping professions.

This prelude is meant to issue a challenge to you: think of arms as front legs, and see if it changes your work. As a bodyworker, the comparison is easy for me to make, but as a movement therapist and physical trainer, I believe the same challenge can bring you new insights. If and when we look at the information we have before us with new eyes, often, we see new connections and new paths.

If you happen to believe in evolution (which many people do not accept in the part of the US where I live, so I sometimes have to tread carefully), then it’s not a great stretch to assume that humans once walked on four legs as many other mammals do. Even though we’ve pretty much lost that talent that we may or may not have had in the past, as one looks at structure, one sees some pretty vivid similarities between the upper extremities and the lower ones. For example, while hip joint has a more stable ball and socket type joint than the shoulder, shoulder also has something of a socket (actually more of a saddle, but still fitting into a fossa). Follow that shoulder joint down the arm: the humerus could be seen to equate with the femur, though it doesn’t take the turn that femur takes at the trochanters. Once past that elbow/knee joint, similarities seem to get larger: we have two bones in the leg and arm with interosseous membranes in both situations. The hands and feet also exhibit similarities, with carpal/tarsal bones, longitudinal arches and transverse arches in both.

If one pursues this concept, one can also see the infra- and suprahyoid muscles as the psoas of the upper body. In my model, the scalenes equate with quadratus lumborum (anchoring upper and lower ribs to transverse processes) and the subscapularis mimics the iliacus (from inside of hip or shoulder bone to near the joint). One could think of deltoid muscles as either gluteals or as tensor fascia lata. I prefer the TFL thought, simply because I see that deltoid tuberosity and linea aspera where deltoid anchors as similar to an iliotibial band running down the side of the thigh.

I had a great constructive discussion with a colleague in London who said, “No, you have it wrong. Actually, I wrote a paper on this topic.” His argument was that since the upper knee (the elbow) was the premier landmark, then triceps weren’t hamstrings, but were quadriceps. Biceps then became adductors, if I remember his model correctly. I see a different correlation…partly because the ‘upper knee’ isn’t pointing forward, so all bets are off. I see triceps as hamstrings, biceps as quadriceps, and brachioradialis as adductors with the deltoid tuberosity becoming the IT band.

Now: What good does this idea do us? Well, first….do you ask clients to challenge hands to do weight-bearing work, where they walk with front legs as well as back? I’ve found that getting self and clients to

explore walking on four feet and putting weight into different parts of the hands (inner, outer arches, into fingers/toes, into heels) can not only give them and us new awarenesses, but can also strengthen and tone us all the way to the shoulders, and probably beyond. I challenge clients to think of various animals and try to mimic their walk—be it cat, lizard, giraffe, cheetah, etc ( I even explore being a snake on occasion!)—can they explore the wonderful mechanism of the front leg and make it more resilient and more responsive in their own body?

I’ve long been a fan of better circulation in the lower legs; the tibialis posterior is my second favorite muscle to explore, after psoas….and I believe the more resilience we can create in the back legs, the healthier a body above will be. Likewise, I believe when we create resilience in the upper arms/front legs, we’re enhancing the resilience of the arms but also shoulders and chest and head/neck. If we’re trying to create movement in clients, why not work to create movement in the front legs as well?

Recently I had a surgery to repair some old plane wreck injuries that finally caught up with me again. During the hospital visit, a nurse put in a new IV. Immediately it began hurting horribly; after fifteen minutes I called in the charge nurse and asked her to take a look, as I couldn’t flex my hand without terrible pain. She realized the first nurse had stuck the needle into the vein and anchored it into one of the valves of the vein, and there it was stuck, anchored, and painful. After several attempts to dislodge it (very painful!) she finally moved it through. I then realized: As a bodyworker of 30 years who uses arms and forearms a great deal in my work, I’d hyper-strengthened the valves. I’d been talking to clients for all my years of practice about the valves in their legs and the importance of muscle movement to pump blood back up through these trap doors; I’d never bothered to think of the valves in my arms as similar! It’s good to be made humble—again.

How does this conversation apply to movement therapists? I believe if you’ll explore the concept both for yourself and for clients, of walking on all fours more often, you’ll find many of the problems of modern society can be alleviated by simple attention to front legs. Carpal tunnel issues, sprained thumbs, wrists and computer or driving injuries; tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow; shoulder issues and even neck issues can be self-treated with simple attention to trying to put weight back into front feet, finding the restrictions and allowing them to wake up and release.

It’s simple. It’s not easy.

Noah Karrasch has been a certified Rolfer since 1986, received advanced certification from the Guild for Structural Integration in 1991, and over the past 30 years has developed his own style of work, which he calls CORE® Bodywork. Though he lives and works in Springfield, MO, USA, he also teaches bodywork skills in various locations around the world including UK, Jamaica, and soon to be Crete and Malaysia. Author of four books including the newest, BodyMindCORE Work for Movement Therapists: Leading Clients to CORE Breath and Awareness (due May 2017 from Singing Dragon publishers), Noah will next visit UK in May and Nov/Dec of 2017, offering courses on both visits. Please see his website, www.noahkarrasch.com for more information).

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