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Why We Took a Break From Brachiating & Function of the Shoulder

When is the last time you recall swinging from monkey bars? Or hanging from a pull-up bar without gloves, tape, or assistance? Most modern people lose this skill as they do not use it regularly, but it can be vital to having healthy and functional shoulders. The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint, similar to the hips, which allow for glide and rotation. If our arms generally hang to our sides, why are our shoulder girdles designed to rotate? Were we designed to hang overhead? The shoulder girdle: Think about this joint of the body. Unlike the spine, hips, knees, and ankles, the shoulders are not loaded while standing upright against gravity. With that said, why do so many modern-day humans suffer from pain caused by cervical spine disc bulges, herniations, stenosis and spondylothesis? If we aren’t routinely walking on our hands (I don’t know about you, but I’m not), how do issues like shoulder impingements, rotator cuff, AC joint injuries, frozen shoulders, and carpal tunnel syndromes come to be? And even further, why are humans physically deteriorating as we advance technologically? Perhaps the issue is not only the movement patterns we are overusing but also about the positions and postures we were built to do but no longer utilize.

What does brachiation mean? Brachium, derived from the Latin word arm, means arm swinging in the arboreal sense from branch to branch. Through evolutionary progression science shows us that primates use brachiation for most of their locomotion but also to keep themselves safe from predators and to gather their own food. As we evolved from a quadrupedal posture (moving and living on all fours) to a bipedal posture (living and moving upright on two limbs) our bodies had to change and adapt to allow for new ways of hunting, gathering, and traveling.

How long have primates been brachiating? Scientists show brachiation tracing back over 13 million years to Africa. Our quadrupedal ancestors most likely begun brachiating after adapting to climbing trees vertically. This seems to be the strongest biomechanical link between quadrupedal climbing and bipedal hanging/swinging.

Why can’t all animals brachiate and how do we know humans were built to hang? In order to successfully suspend and swing, one needs a short spine specifically in the lumbar column, long flexible fingers with a shorter thumb to grip, short fingernails opposed to long sharp claws, as well as wrists and shoulder joints that allow rotation. Observe how many of these anatomical characteristics you share with our ancestors.