by Dr. David Tiberio, Doug Gray

Category: Applied Functional Science

The popular song entitled “Dem Bones” is ageless. Furthermore, it is brilliant. James Weldon Johnson first composed it back in the early 1900s. Instead of quoting all the lyrics (as the song has modifications from version to version), here is a snapshot of the connections within the song:

Toe bone to the foot bone, to the heel bone, to the ankle bone, to the shin bone, to the knee bone, to the thigh bone, to the hip bone, to the backbone, to the shoulder bone, to the neck bone, to the head bone.


Now, to drive home a point, I would like to remind us of a math equation referred to as the Transitive Property of Equality:

If A = B and B = C, then A = C.

I am sure there are other parallels to the body, yet I feel that “Dem Bones” and the Transitive Property of Equality explain the Chain Reaction® of the body, as well as the influence of each part to all the other parts, in a very understandable way! If the entire body is connected, then each part influences the other parts. In other words, motion and stability (and lack of motion and instability) at one joint dramatically affect the other joints (not just above and below, but throughout the entire body).

In this blog entry, we take a deep dive into the Functional Movement Spectrum. Specifically, we focus on Motion, which is included as a principle/truth in the Biological Sciences. In “The Introduction” to this Functional Movement Spectrum Series, we identified the following descriptors for Reaction: Chain (functional) vs. Link (non-functional).

As Movement Specialists, we have all heard of the kinetic chain or the kinematic chain. These terms infer a “connectedness” of the different body parts. But are our interactions with our patients/clients, both assessment and training/rehab programs, guided by the “chain”? At Gray Institute®, the statement that “the body is a chain reaction” influences everything that we do. Why? Because it is a Truth or Principle of human movement. As a Principle, Chain Reaction® serves to direct the Strategies that ultimately determine what movements are used to improve our patient’s / client’s function. 

In attempting to make a movement more functional, practitioners in the movement industry must analyze their programs to determine where on the Functional Movement Spectrum the exercises would fall: link or chain. A movement or exercise that involves multiple bone segments and joints is taking advantage of the Chain. Efforts to work on a specific joint or muscle while eliminating the rest of the body would be considered a Link. Research tells us that the body moves in connected sequences with the motion of one bone affecting those above and below (kinematic chain). Research also confirms that energy is transferred from one region of the body to another during functional movements (kinetic chain). Can we continue to ignore this Truth (of Chain) even if it seems simpler to focus on a single Link?

Although research tells us that the body moves as a Chain, Movement Specialists don’t need research to know that this is a Principle / Truth. We can all see and feel the truth of the body’s Chain. If we stand with our right arm out in front of us at shoulder height and rotate (reach) around to the left, a Chain Reaction occurs. The trunk rotates to the left with the arm. The pelvis rotates to the left as well. This pelvis motion creates internal rotation of the left hip and external rotation of the right hip in the Transverse Plane. But the Chain Reaction does not stop there. The left femur and lower leg will externally rotate in space, which will ultimately cause the left subtalar joint to supinte / invert. At the same time, the right femur and the right lower left will internally rotate causing the right subtalar joint to pronate/evert. This Chain Reaction, occurring primarily in the transverse plane, creates the joint motions (kinematic) that lengthen the muscles creating forces (kinetic) that the body uses for movement. Chain Reaction movements are a Truth of all three planes of motion, particularly when those three planes are combined during function.

An important case example of this occurred when I (David Tiberio) was a young therapist. It was so long ago that I was given the responsibility (an honor) to rehabilitate the first surgical Anterior Cruciate Ligament reconstruction performed in our hospital. I was driven to do my best and facilitate the best possible outcome for this patient. I am guessing you can predict the story. I was focused on the Link approach to the knee. Furthermore, I was focused on the goals: reduce swelling, mobilize the patella and patella tendon, restore knee flexion and extension, and strengthen the quads and hamstring muscles. (Although at the time, we were mistakenly told to limit the quadriceps work.) These are all necessary, but insufficient for a functional outcome.

So as the (true) story goes, all the Link goals were met or exceeded. I asked my patient how he was doing, expecting a positive response that would boost my ego. His response was this: “My knee feels great, but I can’t run!” I had created one good Link in a very poorly functioning Chain. No calf muscle training. No hip joint “rehab” after all the inactivity. No, etc., etc., etc.

Unfortunately, I was doing my “best” at the time for this individual. My education was focused exclusively on the Link approach, so I was focused exclusively on Link rehab. The challenge for all of us in the world of movement is to accept the responsibility to move beyond what we are taught during our education. Our “best” can no longer be based on what we were taught. It must be driven by what we see in our patients/clients and can feel in our own movements. At Gray Institute®, we are in constant search for the Truth / Principles of human movement and the application of the Truths / Principles so we can help you to better serve your patients/clients. We hope you will find Gray Institute® programs an important resource in your journey to understand human movement.

[Side note: Gray Institute® has been delivering a seminar entitled Chain Reaction®, which is now in its 30th year. This clearly is the longest running seminar in the Movement Industry. Please be sure to check out the dates and locations, as it certainly is a can’t-miss seminar for you and your craft of serving your patients/clients better.