Aug 09 2015

Walking with Your Ribs: The Importance of the Upper Body in Gait

Walking with the Ribs.jpg 
If I asked you "how do you walk?", you would probably describe stepping one foot in front of the other, or swinging your legs forward and back. Most people do not consider what happens from the waist up when they walk.

Have you ever noticed someone swinging their arms freely as they walk down the street? The immediate image that comes to my mind is of George Jefferson walking down the streets of NYC to the theme song of The Jeffersons. ‎He looked so relaxed, positive and happy, didn't he? Now imagine someone that you have seen who walks with their arms glued to their sides with little movement in their upper body. Imagine how would that feel. Try it, just for a second. How does it feel to move your legs underneath you, more restricted and effortful perhaps?

So how important is the role of the upper body in your Gait pattern? ‎

In my previous post "Mobility vs Stability: The Building Blocks of Biomechanics", I described an order of mobility and stability that occurs in a well-functioning body. The ribcage and thoracic spine should be mobile to allow stability in the pelvis, and the freedom for the legs to swing with ease underneath you as you walk.

Consider your body as a spiral, as you swing your right leg forward, your left arm should also swing forward followed by a slight twist of the torso to the right. The opposite occurs as you swing your left leg forward. This counter-twist is necessary to remain centered and balanced as you move to propel you down the street with efficiency.

Without the mobility of your upper body through the shoulder, ribcage and thoracic spine, our gait becomes rigid with excessive effort placed on the lumbar spine and pelvis to swing the legs forward and back. This becomes as efficient as walking in cement shoes, and leads to a pattern of pain and discomfort.An experienced Movement Specialist can help correct ineffective gait patterns to restore your freedom of movement in daily life.

Understanding the role of the gait pattern in movement is important for all Movement Practitioners. Learn more in BODY HARMONICS® Postural Analysis and Gait Analysis workshops coming this Fall to ReActive LLC in Oakland, CA. Visit to register.

Written by Holly Wallis, PMA®-CPT, Certified Movement & Rehabilitation Specialist
ReActive, LLC     510-990-1364

© All rights reserved.


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  • 58 days ago
    There is a great deal research to be establishing that psychoanalysis the lower body and gait. Is there also importance to what is describe upper body kinematics of stem and arms.

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    There is a great deal research to be establishing that psychoanalysis the lower body and gait. Is there also importance to what is describe upper body kinematics of stem and arms.

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    The article had been very informative for me. Especially the Importance of Upper Body in Gaits of which I had no idea before. Thanks to the article I got a better picture of its importance after reading it. Do post more such informative posts.

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  • HADI ABDALLAH SAMANEH 1 years 222 days ago
    Is the upper extremity motion significant enough to induce movement at thoracic level?
    Would hypomobility of the rib cage cause gait abnormalities?
    What does move more during gait, lumbar or thoracic?
    Very limuted science behind the subject and if biomechanics was asked to explain what happens then I would tell u that the lower lumbar spine contributes the most to gait and if it becomes hypomobile then the thoracic would compensate big time. I agree that arm swing is very important. A previous research article looked into some core muscles including the transverse abdominus despite how accurate looking at that muscle found that the arm swing is very essential to keep that one in particular active and fast walking interesting enough had better results than slow walking. May be it had to do with moving the body in a more efficient way to get more momentum.
    I like your post. Thank you very much for the great knowledge you provided.


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ReActive Practitioners have extensive training and experience working with many structural and functional conditions, including...

  • Posture/Gait Imbalances
  • Hip Instability/Mobility Issues including pre-/post-operative care for hip scope and replacement
  • Shoulder Instability/Mobility Issues including frozen shoulder, rotator cuff imbalances/injuries, pre-/post-operative care for shoulder replacement
  • Spine Issues (Spinal Stenosis, pre- & post-operative care for discectomy, laminectomy, spinal fusion, DDD, ankylosing spondylitis, spondylolisthesis, disc bulges/herniations – Post-rehab)
  • Knee Instability/Mobility Issues including Patellar Femoral Syndrome, pre-/post-operative care for knee scope and replacement
  • Scoliosis – Functional & Structural
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Osteopenia/Osteoporosis
  • Pre- & Post-natal including diastasis recti, C-Section, SIJ pain/pelvic instability and dysfunction
  • Low, Mid- & Upper back pain (incl Core Stabilization/Muscle Recruitment issues)
  • Muscular Recruitment/Patterning Issues including habitual compensations, faulty recruitment/patterns
  • Chronic conditions – Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, chronic pain syndromes, MS, etc
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Standing & Walking stability issues including balance issues, leg discrepancy, neurological disorders (ie stroke)
  • Functional Movement Issues (ie difficulty performing movements of everyday life ie sit-stand, bending, lifting, pushing, pulling, managing stairs, etc)
  • Sport-Specific Training (golf, tennis, cycling, climbing, swimming, running, education for safer and more effective gym training, etc)
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