In Clinic – Sling Patterns and The Central Nervous System

Let’s look at these sling patterns and the central nervous system.  And their role in solving chronic health challenges and identifying the primary cause.

I first came across ‘Sling Patterns’ early on in my study of human movement.  They are a useful anatomical way of understanding the integrated way that our body’s structure is connected and how we move.

I’d say in general ‘muscle sling patterns’ are well understood and established and certainly aren’t a new topic to discuss or are ‘trending’.  But this week in clinic I saw them in a new light.  With more influence on other factors beyond just movement.

In this instance the educational opportunity was when working with a client in clinic.  An equal source of my learning along with study these days!

Muscle Slings

Page, Frank, and Lardner. Assessment and Treatment of Muscle Imbalance: The Janda Approach (2010)

What is a Sling Pattern?

We’ll cover this only briefly here.  A Sling is a chain of muscles that link the hip joint to the opposite shoulder joint.  They are sometimes called ‘Functional Lines’ as in Tom Myers’ book ‘Anatomy Trains’ here:

Functional Lines and Slings

Let’s use walking (or gait) as an example of how these lines/slings work.  As we take a step forward with the left leg, the opposite arm (right) will also swing forward.  The left hip muscles are working with the right shoulder muscles and are connected in a diagonal line across the torso via various abdominal musculature.

Then – to take the next step the diagonally opposite hip and shoulder rotate forward – and so on.

Get up and have a walk around now to try it.

So – In general, this principle is really useful in understanding and assessing how we move – especially walking and running.  It’s a great tool for analysing and improving pain, movement, strength, power, performance etc.

That’s the basics anyway!

The Central Nervous System (CNS)

However – this article is about more than this way of using these lines/slings as part of a movement screen.

I have a lot clients coming in to the Functional Health Clinic in Newcastle with chronic health challenges and looking to improve energy, sleep, digestion and pain-free movement.

There are several components to the coaching

  • Structural Integration – hands-on bodywork
  • Movement
  • Nutrition
  • Functional Medicine

I’ll usually be integrating all the elements as we work together over a period of time – for example 6 months. This article relates simply to one (very interesting) Structural Integration session of bodywork.

My goal during the assessment of the client is to identify the Primary Stressor/Influence on the Central Nervous System (CNS).  That which is having the greatest impact on function.

I’m not chasing the site of pain

There may be several or numerous imbalances and dysfunctions present – but we are fundamentally only interested in identifying and peeling back the primary layer first.

If there are more layers of dysfunction beneath them we’ll keep going, but the CNS (The Governing Vessel) wants us to go through the process with priorities and hierarchies in mind.

Try and do it in the other order (i.e. chasing the pain) and it becomes a game of hide-and-seek!

Now – usually – the specific assessment will identify the primary factor as being a muscle or muscle group that has direct connections and a relationship with something called the Dura Matter.

Dura Mater

The Dura Mater is the connective tissue ‘sleeve’ that surrounds and houses the nerves of the CNS (for example spinal and cranial nerves).

Dura Mater and Central Nervous System

So when a muscle is creating stress on the dura mater this will often be the significant/primary source of the pain/discomfort/restriction/dysfunction.

The goal is simple.  Identify it and release it. (Then move on).

Sling Demonstrated as the Primary Cause

In the context of this client, the assessment revealed significant asymmetry in their alignment and that the Primary was likely a muscular/fascial attachment in the upper region (e.g. cranial, jaw, neck).

***I keep track of what is presented in clinic and Upper Dural Attachments currently account for 65% of Primaries.  And that is regardless of where the pain is in the body. It’s often not in the same place!*** 

The ‘pain’ in fact is often at a secondary location as a compensation to the primary dysfunction.  Another reason to stop chasing pain.  As Dr Ida Rolf (Rolfing Technique) said “Where you think it is, it ain’t”!

The next step of the assessment is to palpate and feel the tissues and connections in this upper region.  We are looking for those that are in spasm and have a mainline access route to stress out the CNS.

The spasming tissues will be holding the pain patterns, restricting movement, affecting the breath, stimulating the fight and flight response etc.  So once we release it, this stress load can begin to decrease. 

When palpating there can be more than one group of tissues/muscles that are in spasm.  The key is to quickly locate the most influencial one.

The release and correction usually comes when working on some intricate attachments and tissues such as the weird and wonderfully named – Pterygoids, Splenius capitis, Scalenes, Sternocleidomastoid (around the jaw, neck, skull).

Yet – For this client the muscle in spasm was attached to the right arm.  Not often what we find.

It’s called the Lattisimus dorsi (or Lats for short) and it runs from the upper arm to the mid-lower back!

You can see it on the above ‘Functional Lines’ image and see how it forms part of the sling pattern that connects the shoulder to the opposite hip.

Fascinatingly – As soon as we released it, the body responded and moved back into balance.

This was a great example of the relationship between the sling patterns and the central nervous system. 

Symmetry holds the Key

How did we know that the body moved back into balance?

Here’s just a quick and simple explanation of the assessment and reassessment process.

We knew that there was a significant stressor in the system because of the dura mater assessment.  This involves looking at leg length and tracking the fascial connections through the body. 

This client was showing tension in the dura that was creating an apparent ‘short’ left leg when lying prone (on their front).

As soon as the Lat was released under the right arm, the reassessment of the left leg was back to normal length and equal.

One move at the ‘top right’ of the body reverberated down to create a change all the way down to the ‘bottom left’!

Here’s a video to illustrate this integral connectivity: 


Not only will this improve the functional movement patterns of this client – they have also just removed another layer of the onion and unloaded the CNS!

Finding the Primary Cause

We are all individual.  As yet I haven’t completed an assessment and found any two people the same.  The cause of our dis-comfort/dis-ease/dys-function is always a unique combination of factors.

I prefer to avoid the guesswork that leads to more confusion.

To do this I Assess to Create Clarity!

If you have any questions or have been struggling to find answers and the pieces of the puzzle to chronic health challenges, then please don’t hesitate to contact me:

Contact Form:

Myers, T.  Anatomy Trains.

Page, Frank, and Lardner. Assessment and Treatment of Muscle Imbalance: The Janda Approach (2010).

Pennington, G. Importance of Symmetry - Course Notes.Pennington, G. Importance of Symmetry - Course Notes.

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