Dynamic Chiropractic Canada – December 1, 2012, Vol. 05, Issue 12

Primal Rehab: Getting Back to Basics

By Perry Nickelston, DC, FMS, SFMA

Humans are genetically designed to move a lot. Our bodies are physiologically predisposed toward movement and are far more responsive to movement-based stimulation. Movement is a way of life; it is not something to be concentrated in a specialized location at a particular time of the day.

Movement never lies in revealing how the human body functions in relationship to its environment. Unfortunately, as a modern society people are moving less than ever. Technological advances designed to make our lives easier have put the brakes on movement. Lifestyle-induced musculoskeletal dysfunctions are at an all-time high. Is it any wonder that the human body deteriorates and becomes stagnant when we flip our noses at what we were innately created to do?

If a lack of movement contributes to dysfunction, it seems logical to reintroduce basic movement patterns back into people's lives for maximum recovery when injured. Rehabilitation therapy of musculoskeletal injuries most often concentrates on treating the site of pain and symptoms, while neglecting the underlying source of dysfunction. The body does not function in isolation. Therapeutic programs based on isolated regions neglect the most important part of the pain puzzle: integrating full-body movements to ignite primal patterns of support.

The performance and efficiency of movement is a product of nervous-system control to ensure survival. Skeletal integrity is essential in this process. Non-centrated joints allow dislocations and subluxations, making movement vulnerable. To the body, skeletal integrity is far more important than degenerative compensations and inefficient movement. The primal brain does not care much about arthritis, lack of mobility or poor stability; all it really cares about is staying alive until the next day.

Whenever your brain experiences pain, it falls back into a safety pattern of avoidance. It remembers painful patterns and does whatever possible, consciously or unconsciously, to prevent going there again. The brain develops an inherent fear of movement. Sadly, this leads to further lack of movement and dysfunction. Your responsibility as a doctor is to alleviate pain and suffering and restore optimal body function so individuals can reach their full health potential. Results are predicated on understanding the starting point for primal movement. You must regress corrective exercise movements to progress healing.

Following a system of purposeful movement should be the goal. Try the two primal movements (see images) as demonstrated by Mike Fitch from Global BodyWeight Training and creator of the "animal flow" movement system. Here are a few key points to remember when you begin a primal movement-based program:

Make movements purposeful. Precision of movement and quality trumps quantity every time. What is the body doing? What does it want to do without cueing? Keep the patient focused and in the movement zone. Why it matters: Less stress on the joints from isolated loaded exercises and controlled movements decreases injuries.

Regress to progress. Take a step back and modify movements to gain control; avoid movement chaos. Challenging, not difficult, is the objective. Why it matters: Patients can earn the right to progress in the system and may be monitored for progress and motivation.

The brain learns from failure, but not too much at once. Give the nervous system a chance to integrate new patterns. The software switch will positively impact the hardware system as long as you don't overload body capability. Why it matters: The brain-body connection heightens the performance of tasks associated with activities of daily living.

The Beast - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark
The Beast. Specific coaching cues: Knees below hips. Hands below shoulders. Neck in neutral. Ankles dorsiflexed. Raise knees off the ground 1-2 inches and hold. Move in an alternating contralateral pattern forward. Keep middle back level and hips down. Take 10 paces forward and then reverse movement for 10 paces backward. Excellent core stability crawling pattern.

Primal movements improve elasticity of fascial lines and slings.Full movements with vectors off the sagittal plane help uncover fascial restrictions and activation patterns to alleviate tensile stress on the joints. Why it matters: Increased mobility; decreased stress; optimal muscle range of motion for more dynamic movements.

Move the body, not body segments. Challenging four points ofstability simultaneously requires essential muscle patterning and neural sequencing. Why it matters: Learned patterns of motor control.

Shoulder compression in a closed kinetic chain pattern enhances shoulder stabilization. Body-weight support positively stresses the rotator-cuff muscles with sensory input from compression. A must for a shoulder rehab program. Why it matters: A more stable, stronger and injury-resistant shoulder.

The Crab - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark
The Crab. Specific coaching cues: Position buttocks midway between the feet and hands. Lift buttocks 1-2 inches off the ground and keep shoulders externally rotated. Pull back and down in the mid/lower trapezius and latissimus. Control the neck. Move forward 10 paces, alternating the contralateral arm and leg. Reverse movement for 10 paces backward. Excellent for shoulder stability and rotational control.

The closer you get to the ground, the more obvious your asymmetries. Taking the power movers out of the equation with large movements and altering vectors reveals a lot of information about your left- and right-side balance. No cueing necessary. The Static Beast position will find it quickly. Why it matters: Feedback to body symmetry for energy leaks. Own the central core stability to increase distal mobility.

Relearning alternating patterns of movement takes time.Opposite leg to opposite arm; learning to move like we did as infants. Crawling, reaching, forward, reverse and lateral movements help increase learning because the brain has to remember the patterns of neurodevelopment. Vastly different than sitting in a machine and mindlessly pushing and pulling in one vector. Why it matters: Increased body awareness, faster reaction times, and proprioception.

Strength development and function is optimized. The necessary stability required to move through these patterns stimulates the neuromuscular system, leading to more power. The joints are locked in. How do you get better at the exercises? Do the exercises! Explosive power is unleashed. Why it matters:Stronger and more functional control of the body.


  • "Bodyweight Training and Exercise: All Muscle and No Weights for the Best Total-Body Workouts!" Global Bodyweight Training.
  • Cook G. Movement: Functional Movement Systems: Screening, Assessment, and Corrective Strategies. Aptos, CA: On Target Publications, 2010.
  • Forencich F. Exuberant Animal: The Power of Health, Play and Joyful Movement. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2006.
  • Daane M. "Movement Training and Emotion." PTontheNET.com, Aug. 9, 2011.

Click here for more information about Perry Nickelston, DC, FMS, SFMA.

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