Anatomy and Physiology: The Dancer's Alphabet

The Dancer's Alphabet

This title is an interesting analogy. No matter how glorious a dance is, it can be broken down into simpler parts. Many of a dancer's movements are combinations of many of the simple movements to follow. Given that all of the glory of literature in English, from Shakespeare, to Poe, to Swift, to Austen, to Dickens, to Dickinson, to Hiaasen, to, well, you name it, is all based on a brilliant juggling of the same 26 letters, I think it is safe to say that the analogy holds.

As you learn these movements, keep thinking in terms of opposites. The muscles that control these movements are found in what are called antagonistic pairs, and so it is only natural that the movements fall into pairs as well. Given all of the directional terms you learned, this should be second nature to you. Don't plan on memorizing and forgetting these movements, by the way, because you will be using them, along with the directional terms and the names of the bones, whenever you learn muscle names. So? Let's get movin'! The following table provides an overview of the movements at synovial joints.

The Movements at Synovial Joints
Movement Description Examples
Angular Hinge, ellipsoidal, saddle, ball-and-socket joints See the following 5 movements
Flexion Decreases the angle of a joint, moving away from anatomical position Elbow, knee, phalanges
Extension Increases the angle of a joint, returning to anatomical position Elbow, knee, phalanges
Hyperextension Continues extension, but moves beyond anatomical position (more than 180 degrees) Neck, leg, wrist
Abduction Decreasing angle laterally, moving away from anatomical position Arm, leg, phalanges
Adduction Increasing angle laterally, returning to anatomical position Arm, leg, phalanges
Rotational Ellipsoidal, saddle, pivot, ball-and-socket joints See the 6 following movements
Pronation Turns palm prone (dorsally) Wrist
Supination Turns palm supine (ventrally) Wrist
Internal rot. (or medial) Turns arm/leg toward trunk (or medially) Arm, leg
External rot. (or lateral) Turns arm/leg a way from trunk (or laterally) Arm, leg
Left rotation Turns head to the left Head and neck
Right rotation Turns head to the right Head and neck
Special Gliding, ellipsoidal, saddle, ball-and-socket joints See the following 10 movements
Inversion Faces sole of foot medially Foot, ankle
Eversion Faces sole of foot laterally Foot, ankle
Dorsiflexion Faces sole of foot medially Foot, ankle
Plantar flex. Faces sole of foot medially Foot, ankle
Protraction Moves jaw forward (out) Mandible
Retraction Pulls jaw backward (in) Mandible
Depression Pulls jaw open (down) Mandible
Elevation Pulls jaw closed (up) Mandible
Lateral flex. Angles head toward the shoulder Head and neck
Opposition “Opposable thumb,” touches thumb to the tips of the other fingers Thumb
Flex Your Muscles

If you are trying to learn motions by memorizing a book, you are missing the point! People are visually, auditory, or kinesthetic learners. The last one, kinesthetic learners, learn by doing. I know, however, that every learner can learn this way. Stand up in front of a mirror. When you read about one of the motions, do it! In front of the mirror! What's more, say the name of the movement while you do it! In essence, the best thing to do—I am not kidding!—is to choreograph a simple dance! This way you will see the movement (visual), hear the name (auditory), and feel the movement (kinesthetic). It works for my students every year. Trust me, you can't lose!

A New Angle

One of the things I have to unteach every year is the idea that flexing and contracting is the same thing! Flexing is only one in a number of movements described as angular. Angular motion is, quite simply, motion in which one end of the bone is stationary, but the diaphysis, or shaft, of the bone changes its angle. First of all, we need to refer to the body in anatomical position, with the palms facing forward, and the arms, legs, back, and neck straight. Why? Because angular motion, including flexion, is motion relative to anatomical position.

When you stand in anatomical position, the bending of any joint that decreases the angle of that joint is known as flexion (see Figure 7.2). For example, in anatomical position, your arm, as a straight line, is a 180-degree angle; if you bend your elbow, to make your forearm parallel to the ground, you have a 90-degree angle. That is an example of flexion, as is the bending of the knee in the Hollywood foot-poppin' kiss. Don't forget fingers and toes!

Figure 7.2Flexion, extension, and hyperextension. (LifeART©1989-2001, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins)

Extension, on the other hand, is simply the return of the joint to anatomical position. An extreme version of this is called hyperextension, when movement in the direction of the extension is continued, but beyond anatomical position. In some joints, such as the elbow and knee, such movement involves injury; just thinking about landing badly on the knee and having it bend forward instead of back is a creepy thought! Other joints, however, do this freely, as you do with your head when you look up at the sky. You hyperextend your leg at the hip every time you walk; you do the same thing with your arm if you swing your arms while you walk!

Crash Cart

Don't confuse flexion and extension of the elbow and knee with flexion and extension are the only movements possible at a hinge joint, but they are also two of the many possible movements at ball-and-socket joints, for example.

Abduction and adduction are similar, except the movement is along an entirely different plane of the entire arm or leg (in which (see Figure 7.3). Flexion and extension act on a the elbow or knee may remain sagittal plane, with the movement always in the straight)! Flexion and extension anterior/posterior direction. Abduction and adduction, on the other hand, act along a frontal plane, with the movement in a lateral/medial direction. Abduction and adduction are the domains of ball-and-socket joints at the pelvis and shoulder, and the saddle joints at the base of each finger.

Figure 7.3Abduction, adduction, and circumduction. (LifeART©1989-2001, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins)

It is easy to remember the difference if you look at the root of the words. Abduction comes from the root abduct, which means to “take away.” The movement of your arms up and your legs wide at the start of a jumping jack is a classic example of abduction. Adduction, on the other hand is the opposite motion, to add the arms and legs to the body, as when a, soldier comes to attention. Circumduction, as its name implies, involves a circular motion, as you would when you swing your arms, such as in the windup to throw a ball (see Figure 7.3). This movement, in a limited fashion, happens at ellipsoidal and saddle joints, but it is best done at ball-and-socket joints.

book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Anatomy and Physiology © 2004 by Michael J. Vieira Lazaroff. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

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