What are Primal Movement Chains?

Although my MSc was in Sports Rehabilitation Therapy, I have long been interested in movement in general – the way the body ambulates day to day in each person is as fascinating to me as the most technical gymnastics routine. Since finishing my Masters, I have continued to take various courses, some longer (such as Diane Lee’s Integrated Systems Model course which took 9 months), and some shorter weekend ones. Each and every one provides me with some new insight (and plenty of practical take-aways) into how we can assess and treat the body when it’s not quite functioning the way we want or expect. All of it is as applicable to sedentary folk as much as it is to professional athletes. Everyone has a body, and everyone has expectations of that body, so what happens when things aren’t going to plan?

More often than you might think, someone comes along who has been through various therapies and treatments, is in the state of chronic pain or pathology, and is generally feeling understandably pessimistic or demotivated to say the least. Because of how we assess and treat at Victory, we often see these patients for precisely that reason – and we don’t try what everyone else has already tried, as it clearly hasn’t worked! A new approach is needed.

Dr. Perry Nickelston is a doctor of Chiropractic, based in New Jersey. He shares the philosophy that chronic problems typically require a different approach to the norm, as it’s highly likely at this stage (or indeed from the start) that it’s not just a muscle/joint problem but there could be any number of bodily systems affecting the patient’s nervous system and essentially putting them in pain.

Amongst a number of other courses, he runs a Primal Movement Chains workshop which I attended recently. The concept of the course is to assess the way someone’s body responds to different stimuli when tested, which gives us an idea of how they respond to the different stimuli we experience all around us each day. This response tells us how efficiently or effectively the person’s nervous system is reacting to that stimulus. For many people, the nervous system has become ‘upregulated’ and responds to normal stimuli in a mini ‘panic mode’, causing excess stiffness and tension in the body, and unwarranted warning signals such as pain. The person may not feel stressed in the classic sense, but we can see signs of the stress response when a look at things a little bit differently, and this can tell us a lot about the true cause of someone’s ongoing pain.

Examples of stress responses when tasking someone with a particular movement include:

  • Tensing fists
  • Blinking rapidly
  • Grinding the jaw
  • Tensing the shoulders
  • Breath-holding

The second element of the course is to use basic primal movements to treat and restore someone’s movement patterns to correct dysfunctions that have crept in and led them to pain. These types of movements are typically reflexive, in the sense that they are automated movements and responses that the body chooses to do naturally, having learnt these responses throughout evolution to help keep us alive and safe. We can ‘unlearn’ these correct and safe movements for various reasons, but essentially it means the body has chosen another, less-optimal way of doing the same thing. Your nervous system will see this as unfamiliar, and can give you the warning signal of pain to tell you something’s up and it doesn’t like it. By rehearsing and restoring primitive movement patterns and reflexes, your nervous system feels much happier and won’t send off pain signals, and your movements will feel stronger and more natural.

An example of a reflexive pattern which we might try to restore is the rolling pattern. When a baby learns to roll over from their front to their back for the first few times, they are essentially learning how to coordinate and twist to produce a useful movement. If we try to get an adult to roll over the way a baby does, we often find that they get cramp or pain (a sign of overuse) or that they just can’t even do it at all! Because this development comes so naturally to babies, it can be described as automated movement. It’s something that can be restored through treatment and corrective exercises to facilitate easy, more natural, pain-free movement.

If you are struggling with ongoing issues regarding pain or performance, or if you just want to work on reducing stiffness and improving mobility, why not contact Victory on 0207 175 0150 to find out how we can help.