By Patricia Staszak, PT

When we exercise and move we often don’t think about what we are doing – we just move the way we always have.  As some of you know, this pattern sometimes gets us into trouble.  If we have developed poor habits with our posture or movement we are more susceptible to pain and injury.  So many of us try to change this pattern; either with exercises on your own, group classes at the gym, or physical therapy.   Unfortunately, if while you exercise you fall into the same habits with movement you may not be able to achieve your goal. 

The purpose of this month’s article is to give you some basics of movement so you can begin the journey of learning correct movement patterns.  In kinesiology, which is the study of human movement, there are three cardinal planes of movement that are described.  All movements move in these planes, or in some combination of these planes, which is described as an oblique plane.  A plane of motion is an imaginary flat surface that passes through the body.  The axis of rotation is a point around which motion takes place.  For example, the axis of rotation in a bike wheel is the center of the wheel.

The following are descriptions of the three planes of motion in which we move:

Sagittal: The vertical plane that passes through the body from front to back and is perpendicular to the floor.  When we bend over forward we are working in the sagittal plane.  The movements that are associated with this plane are flexion and extension.

The vertical plane that passes through the body from side to side and is perpendicular to the floor.  An example of this movement is when we raise our arm to the side. This is called abduction, and we also side bend in this plane.

Transverse: The horizontal plane that passes through our body and is parallel to the floor.  Rotation is the motion that occurs in this plane, and an example is when you rotate your head to look to your right or left.

The following exercises will illustrate movement in the three planes.  These are wonderful exercises to help your mind and body understand the planes of movement, and begin to restore the normal mobility of your joints.  These are so important because our body moves like a machine; it is all that stuff you learned in physics! If there is an imbalance in the way we move our muscles, it creates stress through our joints, and we will likely develop wear and tear.  The more we use the correct stabilizing muscles to move in the correct planes, the healthier our musculoskeletal system can be.

“The Mermaid”

The Mermaid illustrates frontal plane movement. The start position for this exercise is seated with your pelvis and spine in neutral, either with legs crossed as pictured or seated in a chair. 

Inhale: Reach one arm toward ceiling
Exhale: Starting at the base of your spine, side bend toward the opposite side. Visualize reaching over a big ball so your spine lengthens as you reach.
Inhale:  Return your trunk to vertical.
Exhale: Lower your arm to start position.

Seated Thoracic & Cervical Extension

The seated thoracic and cervical extension exercise illustrates movements through the sagittal plane.  The start position is seated was shown with your body lined up in neutral.  This is a very subtle movement that sometimes requires practice to perform correctly.

Exhale:  Gently lift your breast bone towards the ceiling as you slide your shoulder blades back and down to open your chest.  Bring your head backwards slowly, as if your eyes are following an imaginary line up the wall.  Only go as far as feels natural, making sure to keep your head from falling backwards.

Spinal Rotation

The spinal rotation exercise occurs in the transverse plane.  Again, the start position is seated with your legs crossed and body lined up in a neutral position.  Your arms are parallel to the floor with your elbows bent to 90 degrees.  Scapula stabilized with your neck muscles relaxed.

Inhale: Prepare
Exhale: Starting at the base of your spine, rotate your entire spine to the right.  Visualize spinning around a rotisserie, being careful not to be forward, backward or to the side.  Your head should also follow the movement

Repeat to the left.

Brunnstrom, Signe, L. Don. Lehmkuhl, and Laura K. Smith. Brunnstrom’s Clinical Kinesiology. Fourth ed. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis, 1983. 2-6. Print.