The Big Player – Involuntary Movement

Anatomy and Health

What has the body’s structure, its architecture, got to do with health and wellbeing? Most, including many professionals, think very little. Well, maybe a big little. Even many of those closely involved in “structural medicine”, such as chiropractors and osteopaths, tend towards a limited concept such as musculoskeletal problems, even if not exclusively.

For my own part, on graduation I frankly didn’t much think that structure had a lot to do with function either, other than in a very limited “mechanical” way. Function, in this sense, being understood to refer to “voluntary” function – movement for the most part. And, although physiology was, and is, a core subject in any medical curriculum, it was not a word that easily equated in one’s mind with function.


Why? Here we are into the realm of speculation. Physiology embraces just about every activity which forms any part of the organism’s life processes. Together these form the miracle of a continuing series of integrated and interdependent activities – the total life processes. Yet, although we are aware that some of these activities clearly have movement, such as cardiac, respiratory and peristaltic function, we otherwise do not in a very conscious way attach the concept of movement to much else in the involuntary system.

In the realm of osteopathic and chiropractic philosophy, the system which dominated their traditional teachings, particularly in the area of physiology, was the neurological one. And, while many disturbances to other organs and systems, particularly the musculoskeletal system, were often seen as resulting from “dysfunctional” neurology, we were disposed to view “lesioned” neurology, per se, as largely originating from mechanical sources – nerve impingements, for example.

The assumption has been that nerve function, as distinct from those activities dependent upon it, is something of a static state; that, therefore, normality pervades unless there is identifiable abnormality of nerve cells and tissue, such as in multiple sclerosis, or inflammation such as in herpes zoster, trigeminal neuralgia, or other pathology.

Like so many other areas of dysfunction we assume that, in the absence of symptoms, all is well. This pervading notion that illness, dysfunction, disorder, disease or whatever other terminology is used, is present ONLY when symptoms arise, is at the root of much ignorance about the nature of illness.


Once we move our thinking away from the mechanical model, and to the realization that neurological (and other) function is entirely dependent upon movement we are well on the way to an understanding of the vital principle underpinning the totality of the life processes. Without such an understanding I believe we continue to flail about in semi darkness.

Which brings us back to that extraordinary discovery by William Garner Sutherland, DO and for which insight he has yet to be fully credited, in this day, almost 100 years after the possibility of an osseous respiratory movement first took hold.

The notion that a permanent involuntary process was at the core of our very everyday “beingness” was revolutionary. This was akin to the idling engine of the motor car in the background upon which every other function of the car depended. We have yet to discern the nature and intricacies of the mechanism. But, be in no doubt that it is there and – again to the professional – needs to be harnessed for virtually every patient.

All I have done is to pull aside a curtain for further vision
William Garner Sutherland, DO.

Post #6

From the Desk of Robert Boyd, DO (UK)