What is Postural Restoration?
The Postural Restoration Institute posits that your body has a left side and a right side and that these two sides are not the same.
Each side is built to move in three planes of motion: forward and back (sagittal plane), side to side (frontal plane), and rotation (transverse plane). Interestingly and importantly, as you’ll see in some examples below, since the two sides of our body are not the same, asymmetrical movement is produced.
While asymmetric structure and function is inherent to our body’s design and thus completely natural, over time these asymmetries of movement can get too great and we end up favoring our right side too much, thereby making right-sided overuse our norm.
This right-sided dominance and overuse leads to predictable patterns of compensational movement that eventually produce weakness, instability, and pain syndromes in common areas like the feet, hip, lower back, mid-back, scapular/shoulder, and neck.
Learning to decrease our right-sided dominance while re-integrating our left side and then balancing true tri-planar movement between the two sides is the goal of PRI so that movement and breathing can occur without compensation.
What is Your Core?
Our thorax, in this case defined as the pelvic floor up to the cervical spine, drives human movement.
As you can see, there are numerous muscles that exert their pull on structures below the pelvis, like the legs, as well as the parts of the thorax above it, mainly the ribs and spine. Thus, all parts of your body are strongly influenced by how your pelvis moves, all the way down to your ankles and feet, and all the way up to your neck and head.
This is why all Postural Restoration activities will address the position and movement of the pelvis first. It is impossible to move in three planes of motion without proper function of your pelvis.
A Holistic Approach
The strength and conditioning world generally agrees that since the human body works as a system, it’s best to train it through movements rather than isolating muscles. Yet so many efforts at rehabilitation or pain management continue to attempt to treat what hurts, rather than figuring out why it hurts from a holistic point of view.
For example, perhaps you have knee pain. Well, your knee is the intersection of your lower leg (tibia) and upper leg (femur). The femur sits in a special part of your pelvis called the acetabulum. If the pelvis is stuck in a particular position, it has to influence the femur that is attached to it. The femur then has to influence the tibia below it. Thus the entire knee joint is affected by the pelvis.
All PRI inspired training starts with getting your pelvis moving again, because chances are (like 99.99% chance) your pelvis isn’t moving in the way nature intended!
How Do You Know Your Pelvis Is Stuck?
PRI has developed objective testing to determine the position and function of your pelvis and rib cage. Based upon these tests, we can determine what type of movement (or non-movement) is occurring at these critical structures.
Who Benefits From PRI Training?
You’d be amazed at how many of our aches and pains in the joints and lower back arise from the inability to move in three planes of motion and breathe without compensation. The clients I help generally have nagging pains that they learned to live with, and sometimes sought treatment for, with no lasting resolution.
People can experience pain when they don’t move correctly or because certain bones of their body aren’t positioned correctly. This observation is not unique to PRI. Differences in the position of paired bones, like the shoulder blade, are well documented in physical therapy and strength and conditioning. And since bones are moved and positioned by muscle, it’s always been known that the problem is a muscular one.
Below on the left is a picture of my upper back from a few years ago, before PRI, when my body was a painful mess. The lines denote the bottom of my shoulder blades. It should be obvious that my right shoulder blade is lower than my left. Compare that to present day. Now my shoulder blades are pretty much even.
The usual remedy given to correct these imbalances is to stretch tight muscles, or strengthen weak ones. The reason why we end up in these positions is rarely addressed, most likely because no one ever had a good explanation. For anyone who has struggled with chronic pain like I did, stretching and strengthening was not the solution.
To my knowledge, only PRI has identified the reason that we end up in these positions: the inherent asymmetrical nature of the human body. As I previously mentioned, and it’s worth repeating, the left side of our body and the right side of our body are not the same, and thus don’t move the same. This asymmetry of movement results in a situation where we develop a neurological preference for our right side.
This asymmetry starts with the actual physical structure of our brain itself as the two hemispheres of the brain are not the same on both sides.
Another inherent asymmetry: our lungs.
The right side of our lungs has three chambers while the left has only two.
And last but certainly not least, we have our diaphragm. Actually, we have two hemi-diaphragms, and as you can see, the left hemi-diaphragm and the right hemi-diaphragm are not the same. The right side is much bigger, and thus stronger, than the left side. In addition, the different sides have the ability to act independently of each other.
This view is from the top down, so behind the diaphragms you see the spine. Since the diaphragms are independent muscles, and they both attach to the spine, they exert a pull on the spine. Considering the size differential between the right and the left side, that pull will not be equal. In a tug of war, which side will win?
Clearly the right side will win. And when you consider that a human breathes on average 20,000 times a day, those diaphragms will contract 20,000 times. This stronger rightward pull will always influence our lower spinel position and we eventually find ourselves with a center of mass shifted over to the right.
So you see, our neuromusular pattern of right sided dominance (regardless of handedness) influences us in everything we do. We simply don’t move the same on the left and right sides of our bodies. And when this asymmetry of movement gets too extreme, our body starts to hurt. This reality is what PRI trained professionals understand and work with in order to increase our ability to move and breathe correctly.
Why Am I In Pain and Other People Aren't?
That’s a hard question to answer because pain is such a multi-faceted issue. Pain is usually an indication from your brain that something is wrong in your system. Often it’s telling you “buddy, stop doing this!” or “something really needs to change”.
From one point of view, other people could be “master compensators” meaning that their body does a great job substituting a new movement pattern for the one they have lost. Compensation patterns will work…..until they no longer work. When your body decides it can no longer compensate, it’ll let you know. Whether that happens as a teenager, your thirties, fifties, or later, is impossible to know. My worst years were my twenties. My early 30s were still somewhat bad, but my mid to late 30s was when I discovered PRI and they have been the most pain-free since my teenage years.
Intellectual Thought Exercise...Why This Asymmetry?
It’s the same question that I asked when I first learned about this. Why would the human body be designed in this way?
I offer some speculative observations.
- As the famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson famously quipped, “the universe is under no obligation to make sense to you”. Human evolution occurred over millions of years. As much as we desire answers, there is no way to know the “why” behind everything.
- Nature is preoccupied with survival; it’s not interested in how we are feeling. If humans reproduce, nature has succeeded and the human body has done it’s job. It turns out that the human body and brain, full of asymmetry and inefficient levers, has done a remarkable job in enabling humans to reproduce and prosper.
- Why not asymmetry? Why do we assume that symmetry is better than asymmetry? Asymmetry is found everywhere in this universe. One of the greatest challenges in physics is to figure out what happened to the antimatter, or why we see an asymmetry between matter and antimatter. Bringing it back to the human level, we don’t question the reason for the structural and functional asymmetry of the brain, although this asymmetry could be the basis for many mental disorders. Asymmetry of structure and movement is not the problem. Too much asymmetry of movement, which results in too little movement overall, is the problem. The inability to balance movement between the two sides of our body leads to dysfunction. Keeping the asymmetry within acceptable limits is the challenge. That’s what PRI does.