Ensuring Body Balance to Avoid Neck and Back Injury

“The Opposite Hand and Foot Rule”


Ensuring body balance when performing activities, especially in standing, requires coupling of the  opposite hand and foot:  “The Opposite Hand and Foot Rule.”

During an activity that involves reaching, the leading action hand is coupled with the leading opposite foot.  By first placing the opposite foot of the leading hand in position, the base of support is established to allow for a balanced and safe movement as the leading hand is brought forward.

By placing the opposite foot forward the pelvis and lower trunk is fixed in position so that the opposite hand and upper trunk can best perform the action allowing for minimall strain and maximal stability on the spine to “Avoid Neck and Back Injury.”

One obvious example is:  Opening a Door with the right hand.  First place the left foot forward as the right hand reaches to push or grasp the door handle.

Another example is picking up a piece of paper from the floor with the right hand.  First place the left foot forward close to the piece of paper.  Reach forward with the right hand as you bend at the hips and  knees, keeping your spine straight (ears kept in-line with the shoulders and hips).

By best example is shoveling.  When holding the shovel with the left hand closest to the spade (lower end of the shovel) the right foot is kept forward as the leading foot.  This keeps your lower pelvis and base of your spine properly positioned and stabilized as the opposite upper trunk and hand leans forward performing the shovel action.  The same holds true for sweeping.  The lower hand on the broomstick is matched with the opposite foot forward.

“Proper Body Mechanics or body balance is learned and practiced and necessary for maximal work efficiency with minimal biomechanical strain.  Keeping a wide base of support, maintaining the spine is neutral (straight) and using the opposite hand and foot rule ensures maximum neck and back stability during the reaching activity.  Upper and lower trunk counter rotation is encouraged during the action which maintains the spinal joints, ligaments and muscles in best alignment ensuring work efficiency with minimal spine strain.

Unfortunately,  unless you prepare yourself before the movement or activity (use the opposite hand and foot rule and maintaining neutral spine), you are most likely to perform the action incorrectly and  more likely to strain your neck and back.  This is so because our motor development process involves the  coordination and integration of individual movement reflexes that must be integrated (balanced) at the  spinal cord and brain level.  During strenuous or repetitive activities of daily living these reflexive movements dominate our actions making us susceptible to physical inefficiently and neck and back strain.  Therefore understanding and implementing the “opposite hand and foot rule” along with a prepared wide base of support (opposite foot forward) while maintaining a neutral (straight) spine (ears in line with the shoulders and hips) will ensure safety and minimize neck and back injury.

Dr. L’Europa is clinical director of Spinetech located in Knightsville Cranston.  Dr. L’Europa is in his 35th year of private practice as a Doctor of Chiropractic and Registered Physical Therapist and considered an expert in clinical biomechanics and kinematics.