Health Courses->Exercise Basics->Coordination
Synchronized, efficient movement of the body is a result of proper neuromuscular signaling. This in turn is dependent upon full joint motion, tissue flexibility, strength, brain function, and learning. If joints do not move fully and freely, abnormal arcs of motion develop to accommodate the best movement possible. This abnormal motion disturbs proper signaling from the joint to the brain and spinal cord and then these coordination centers send the wrong signals back to the muscles. These nerve signals generate more stress on the tissues involved and make one more vulnerable to injury, both frank injury and the repetitive motion stress of cumulative small insults over time.
If the soft tissues—muscles, ligaments, tendons—are not flexible enough, they disturb joint movement, and the same abnormal nerve signaling occurs. If muscles are not strong enough, abnormal motion results with similar neurological aberrations. Most locomotor functions are learned. There are some rudimentary, inborn movements like sucking, reaching, head turning, and crawling, but any sophisticated movement is basically a series of conditioned reflexes and responses.
Even elements like proper nutrition are important aspects to keep in mind when addressing optimal coordination. Minerals like calcium and magnesium and B-complex vitamins are essential for proper control of movement. In one study it was shown that the fine muscle coordination needed to competitively shoot a rifle in Olympic biathlon events was dramatically improved if the athletes were given vitamin and mineral supplements in addition to a good diet.
Visual acuity, binocular coordination, and the accurate interpretation of visual data are vital to coordinated movement since so much of our activities are visually dependent. If we are not getting accurate information into our brains about the world around us it is very difficult to interact with that world in a coordinated, healthy fashion. It may be due to hidden visual disturbances that can be identified by standard optometric testing. Find an optometrist that can do a proper evaluation if you believe visual problems may be adversely affecting your health.
In the United States accidents are the leading cause of death
for people in the 1-37 age group.
Below is a short test that might reveal the subtle signs of incoordination. This test is not meant for those with serious neuromuscular impairment such as: cerebellar dysfunction, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophies, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, seizure disorders, etc.
- Are you always the last to be chosen for a pick-up team sport?
- Do people always offer to drive when they go somewhere with you, even if it’s your car?
- Do you find yourself spending an inordinate amount of time gluing things back together?
- Does your spouse keep sharp objects where you can’t find them?
- Do you find yourself in hospital emergency rooms more often than all your friends?
- Has your spouse suggested increasing your life insurance policy?
- When you offer to fix something around the house, like changing a light bulb, does your spouse say, “No, maybe we should call a professional?”
If in answering these questions you have the feeling that improved coordination is needed in your life, it would be wise to take many of the recommendations that follow. Even if answering this small quiz gave you a feeling of confidence in your coordination certain suggestions that follow might significantly improve the quality of your life and prevent injuries even in well-coordinated individuals.
We have tried to add a bit of humor to this discussion when addressing the average person. For those unfortunate individuals suffering serious coordination difficulties due to significant neurological disease or injury, incoordination is no laughing matter. It is important to mention that if there is any suspicion of serious incoordination it could be a sign of a major health problem. Many advanced testing procedures to discover the root causes of serious coordination disturbances are available and should be sought out. Consulting with your family physician, chiropractor, naturopath, or physical therapist for possible referral to a neurologist with extensive testing capabilities is advised.
But for the clutz with all thumbs who doesn’t have the excuse of serious nerve damage to fall back on, and for the individual who just wants to function optimally, the question is—how do we become more coordinated and enhance living and our health?
Tai Chi Chuan
Ergonomics refers to energy-efficient, proper body motions. Learning how to move properly in relation to all the objects we interact with, and all the activities we engage in, is more important than we think. Our initial reaction is to just do something. Our bodies should know how. Yes, our bodies are quite remarkable. They will usually figure out a way to do what we ask. But the key word is properly. Optimal safe, efficient movement has to many times be better learned.
Proper lifting technique is an ideal example. Many people lift objects on the floor by bending over at the waist with knees straight or only slightly bent. This causes enormous strain on the low back—muscles, ligaments, and discs of the spine. A more biomechanically sound method is squatting with the knees and keeping the lumbar spine relatively straight.
Carrying objects close to the body rather than at arms length is another obvious example of efficient body movement. Pushing heavy objects to move them rather than pulling them is also more sound biomechanically.
Proper body positioning during relatively passive endeavors, like sitting while reading or typing, is important also. Having one’s reading material or computer screen at an ideal height for relaxed eye movement and neck comfort can have dramatic impact on physical health when these activities occupy many hours and days of our time. Just a few inches of variation in wrist position can make the difference between comfortable, healthy typing and the development of incapacitating carpel tunnel syndrome. Scott Donkin’s Sitting On the Job: How to Survive the Stresses of Sitting Down to Work — A Practical Handbook is a good reference for practical steps towards better ergonomic coordination.
Stabilization exercises are part coordination training, part strength training, and part ergonomic training. These exercises are done for the low back, particularly in people with unstable, hypermobile, lumbar (low back) spinal joint abnormalities or previous injuries or part of a rehabilitation program. The exercises strengthen weak trunk musculature in order to help stabilize the low back. They include coordination exercises which teach new movements that stabilize weak structures. And they include training in ergonomically sound performance of daily tasks. The San Francisco Spine Institute has put together some good videotapes and handouts for these procedures. Consulting with a physical therapist or chiropractor who utilizes these programs is recommended when spinal problems threaten one’s health.
Summary of Elements Contributing to Coordination
- Maintain optimal flexibility of joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments with regular stretching exercises and any necessary manipulative therapy.
- Maintain balanced strength of musculature.
- Provide optimal nutrition and supplementation for ideal nerve system function.
- Locomotor skill development and opportunities for varied interactions with the world from a young age are of the utmost importance.
- Identification and correction of any hidden visual deficits that might contribute to distorted sensory input to the central nervous system and thus to altered psycho-motor responses might prove helpful in a large number of individuals.
- Mindfulness concentrates our attention to produce more precise action with fewer errors. Mindfulness training would enhance everyone’s well-being, not only in the realm of coordination.
- Avoidance of intoxicants obviously improves coordination. There are also many prescriptive and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals that adversely affect the nervous system causing incoordination significant enough to cause many accidents. Warning labels on medicines that advise against use while driving or operating dangerous equipment should be heeded.
- Tai Chi Chuan exercises are moving meditations that do much more than improve coordination. They are beneficial enough to recommend to everybody.
- Attending to proper ergonomic function in all of the day’s activities is a key to healthy coordination.
- For those who have weakened or injured musculoskeletal functions, special stabilization exercises should be undertaken.
- For those active in athletics and sports, instruction on ideal biomechanics is valuable.
Evaluate your daily activities. If you need more coordination improvement to decrease stress in your life make efforts to get help, whether it be learning Tai Chi from a video or consulting a health professional about a specific problem.