Why do we need to be able to stand on one leg?
Your ability to stand on one leg effects your ability to stand on two legs.
Every time you walk you are required to stand on one leg. 40% of human gait movement is performed on one leg. Every time you walk, every time you run, every time you take the stairs, you are moving in and out of single leg stance.
When a client walks in the door take note of all that they do. Do they lean to one side? Does their head tilt / rotate to one side? Are they stuck in some sort of rotation? What does their jaw do when they talk? How do they breath? All of this is very important information. Most of my clients are leaning to one side when they first walk in the door, holding most of their weight over one leg. When I have them perform a single leg stance it is not surprising that their ability to stand on one of their legs is compromised. If they are unable to shift their centre of mass over that leg, single leg stance availability will be limited, and they will have to compensate.
A perceived centre of mass to one side can be the result of many things.
– One is a true structural leg length discrepancy. If you have been told you have a leg length issue it is important to determine if it is structural or functional. A structural issue means that there is an asymmetry of the boney structures. Functional means there is a soft tissue / motor control imbalance that could potentially be addressed. Be very careful putting an orthotic under a foot unless there is a true structural issue.
– Another is the result of an activity you perform often favouring one side. A skateboarder for example favours holding their weight over one leg, whist the other leg performs the pushing. This can influence a muscle/motor control imbalance (perhaps thats why it feels so difficult to skate switch?). Rotational patterns performed in succession to one side like in golf, or a cleaner who vacuums one way for example could be of influence. A cricket bowler, footballer, baseball pitcher, tradesman holding a nail bag, a mother who carries her baby in one arm can all influence single leg stability.
– Injury. When the body is injured, the motor control centre in the brain can learn substitute movement patterns to allow compensation for the injury. Say you roll your ankle, there is a good chance after injuring it you don’t want to put your weight fully onto that ankle right? So you learn to shift your weight to the opposite side as a compensation. How clever! Also possible is that the injured ankle shifts into excessive supination to make up for lack of stability. This functional dysfunction however can be carried over into your movement patterns post recovery to the point where another injury, or pain may arise.
A handy tool that can be used to gather further information into someones movement patterns / compensations is having them perform a Single Leg Stance.
When watching someone perform a single leg stance there are many things to look out for.
Which foot does the client choose to stand on first? Can the client look straight ahead with arms relaxed by sides? Are they breathing? How are they breathing? What is their jaw doing? Is there any head tilt or rotation? Do the shoulders or pelvis rotate? Does the pelvis drop on opposite side of stance leg? Is the foot searching for stability in pronation or supination? Are the toes gripping the ground? Do the colour of the toes change? Is the opposite foot in the air relaxed / plantar flexed / dorsi flexed? Are the toes flexed or extended? How high is the leg off the ground? Is the leg rotated? Is the tibia rotated?
If any of these compensations take place it is important to consider why? Does their history give you some clues?
– Why they choose to stand on the L or R leg first?
– If the foot is finding stability in supination is it trying to make up for lack of stability at the ankle / hip / core?
– If the toes are gipping the ground are they trying to make up for lack of glute max activation?
– If a shoulder / pelvis is rotating do they have poor Anterior Oblique Sling or Posterior Oblique Sling patterning?
– If they hold their breath, or breath into is there poor intrinsic core stability?
– If the pelvis drops on opposite side of stance leg do they have a patterning issue in the lateral sub system?
Using assessment to give you information can help you unlock the WHY to a problem. WHY a skateboarder is having trouble skating switch. WHY a golfer’s swing is causing them pain. WHY a house cleaner feels they can only vacuum one side. WHY ever since rolling your ankle you struggle to balance. WHY you keep running into knee / hip pain when you run. WHY a bunion is forming. WHY mum holds baby on one side. WHY your knee hurts one side and not the other. WHY you grind your teeth one side.
Take some time to stand on one leg and feel in your body what it is you are capable of. Can you maintain an even tripod on your foot, whilst you look straight ahead, breath, relax your arms, and bring your opposite knee up to hip height. If you find yourself compensating, or struggle to balance on one side, consider working with someone who can help you unravel these patterns, to create balance and decrease potential pain and injury.
Don’t believe that a weight shift can limit global movement patterns?
Give it a go your self. Put your feet together and see how well you rotate L and R. Hopefully they are both equal, otherwise there is a pattern you could sharpen up on already 😉 Now shift your body weight to one side (you can widen your stance a little if need be). Try rotating your torso to the same side as your weight shift. Probably felt pretty good? And now try rotating your torso to the opposite side as your weight shift. Probably not so good? It goes to show that if something moves, or can’t move, something else will be effected. Imagine if you were shifting your weight to one side all the time.. What would your neck have to do to keep your eyes level to the horizon? How would this effect the way your feet drive into the ground when you walk? How would this limit the rotation in your gait patterning? A little bit goes a long way.