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Free the Arms… And the rest shall follow

Let’s start with a few key points about the “arm swing”.

  • Arm swing with walking is an important part of locomotion.

  • Arm swing changes with age.

  • Arm swing helps with balance, energy conservation, fluid flow & tissue health.

  • Where possible, add in more movement to your daily life.

Walking is not just an isolated leg exercise, it is a gentle whole body massage whereby the force from ground is transmitted up from our feet to the top of our head. The forgotten motion of arm swing is important and is more than a mere byproduct of walking. When we walk our arms naturally swing by our side (except for when we are holding an object). This natural ‘out of phase’ (oppositearm and leg) motion is important for a number of elements of our physical health.

When possible we would like our arms to be free to sway. As we know, arm motion isn’t necessary for walking but we miss out on the benefits when we completely exclude it. Arm swing is also something that changes with our age and activity, for example we can actively pump our arms when running to help generate more force and babies walk with their arms out wide to enhance their balance.

Benefits of arm swing

The benefits of arm swing include;

  • balance
  • energy conservation
  • lymphatic drainage
  • blood flow
  • tissue health.

In motion, we create a counter balance as the opposite arm and leg simultaneously swing forwards (Meyns, Bruijn & Duysens, 2013).  Interestingly, balance has been found to be a minor component of arm swing, the energy conservation of the lower limbs was shown to be of greater value (Park, 2008). Without delving too far into biomechanics, we can think about the left leg swinging clockwise when we step forwards (please see picture below). When the right arm swings counterclockwise this counteracts the leg motion and reduces the torque of the joints and connective tissue of the lower limb (Meyns, Bruijn & Duysens, 2013). From this we can see that arm swing helps us conserve energy and protect the joints in our lower limbs.

When our arms swing we also get movement in the spine and ribcage, as a result we get this beautiful chain of motion from the fingertips all the way throughout the body. This gentle motion helps with fluid flow in the upper body. Our body relies on movement from muscles and gravity to help pump blood and lymph all around the body. Adding in more movement from our arm swing we also help stretch out the tissues in the upper body. It will even help stretch out fascia (internal connective tissue that wraps around organs and muscles and provides support) and various other connective tissues that typically get shortened with a sedentary lifestyle.


Motion is lotion

When we have the opportunity to add in gentle, safe movement in our daily lives we should. Some practical tips to increase your arm swing include:

  • Popping your phone in your bag or pocket and allow your arms to be free.
  • Purchase gloves to help free the hands from the warm pockets in the cold weather.
  • Play with exaggerating your arm swing and notice how the body feels

If you have pain, something feels wrong or you’re not sure about your arm swing you can always make an appointment with one of our Osteopaths at The A Life. We can analyse your movements, provide you with pain relief and a plan to get you back on track.

By our resident Osteopath Fauntine Lariba

REFERENCES

 

Meyns, P., Bruijn, S., Duysens, J. (2013). The how and why of arm swing during human walking. Gait & Posture. 38. 555-562.

 

Park, J. (2008). Synthesis of natural arm swing motion in human bipedal walking. Journal of biomechanics. 41. 1417-1426.

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