Updating the arm map can help overcome the excess effort and strain that creeps into movement when an arm map is incomplete. Movement is guided by body maps in the brain. An incomplete map limits movement which can lead to discomfort, pain and injury. This column will guide you to find the "other end" of the arm and to become aware of arm connections from end to end.
What is in your arm map?
What do you include in your arm map? Bones, joints and movements... A great way to uncover your map is to draw what you think the structure looks like or picture it in your mind. Take a moment to sketch out your arm right now. Include as much detail of the structure as you can...
Your drawing is a reflection of your personal arm map which the brain uses to direct movement.
Next compare your drawing to the image at the end of this article.
• Are there differences between your drawing and the anatomical image? Differences may include the number and organization of bones, joints, as well as relative size.
• Did you include the shoulder blade and collar bone in your drawing?
Even subtle differences between your drawing and the anatomical reality influence movement. Many map the arm from the "shoulder" out to hand omitting the crucial connection of the arm to the rest of the skeleton. Without this connection the arm is imagined hanging off the side of the torso engaging muscles for stability rather than movement.
Arm in the torso?
Yes, part of the arm lies within the torso! The shoulder blade and collarbone are part of the arm.
Looking closer at these connections, the upper arm meets the shoulder blade forming a joint (arm joint #3.) This ball and socket joint allows the arm to move through a wide range of motions; forward, back, up, down and rotation. Explore these movements.
You will notice that shoulder blades participate in arm movement. Place a hand on the opposite shoulder blade and more your arm again noticing how the shoulder blade moves in conjunction with the arm movements.
The shoulder blades are very mobile because they connect to only two other bones, the upper arm and the collarbone.
To locate the place where the shoulder blade meets the collarbone, place a hand on top of the "shoulder." Your hand is over this place where the two bones meet. Move your arm in small motions at first, gradually increasing through a range of arm motions. You will notice that the collarbone moves in conjunction with the shoulder blade and the arm.
Palpate the collarbone from the place where it meets the shoulder blade in toward the middle of your body. At the inside end you will feel a larger bump, this is where the collarbone forms a joint with the breastbone (arm joint #1.) This is the only place the arm connects to the rest of the skeleton. To feel the arm moving at this joint, place your hand over the collarbone/breastbone joint and
• rotate your arm as it hangs at your side
• raise the whole arm out to the side
• repeat bringing the arm in front of you, behind you and above you
Congratulations you have located the "other end" of your arm!
Connect the whole arm...
To reinforce your arm map palpate or touch the bones and four main joints. Using the image at the end of this article to guide you, start at the hand and palpate the structure all the way to the "other end" where the collarbone meets the breastbone.
• hand to wrist (arm joint #1)
• wrist to forearm
• forearm to elbow (arm joint #2)
• elbow to upper arm
• upper arm to arm joint #3 (commonly referred to as the "shoulder joint")
• arm joint #3 to shoulder blade (on the back)
• shoulder blade to collarbone (over the top of the shoulder)
• collar bone to breast bone (located in the front at the base of neck.) This is where the arm connects to the rest of the skeleton.
Many healthy arm movements include the coordination of movement through all 4 arm joints.
Explore: Move the Whole Arm
One of my favorite ways to remind myself of the connections of the arm into the torso is through a movement exploration I learned in my "Bones for Life" class. You can use this exploration as a break from practicing to reinforce your complete arm map.
• Lie on the floor, knees bent - hip width apart, arms at your side, palms up.
• Slide the arms on the floor until they are perpendicular to the torso.
• Gently move the palm of your hand from palm up to palm down. Repeat slowly and easily.
• As you explore this arm movement, notice how the forearm, upper arm, shoulder blades and collarbone also move. Utilize your inclusive awareness to be shift your focus to different regions of the arm noticing how they move in concert with other regions.
• It can also be informative to do the arm movement exploration on one side, placing the opposite hand on the outer end of the collarbone and upper arm of the moving arm.
Whole arm movements for flute playing
(Image © 2001 Benjamin Conable)
Completing your arm map can balance out muscle use, free overworking muscles and provide access to effortless support for the arms. This in turn enhances technique, breathing, expression, comfort and ease. Use the arm drawing to remind yourself about the complete arm as you play and move throughout your day. Practice breaks are the perfect opportunity for gentle movement explorations like the one in this article to reinforce the map. Enjoy the whole arm as you play! I welcome your questions and comments about the arm connections.
Learn more about the arms from any of the wonderful Body Mapping books including Lea Pearson's, Body Mapping for Flutists (GIA.)