In the world of neurologic movement disorders, we talk a lot about “abnormal synergy patterns”. And they kind of “get a bad rap” in how they can inhibit motor (movement) recovery. But functional muscle synergies are not necessarily a bad thing.  Here we are going to talk about functional muscle synergies.

What is a muscle synergy?

A muscle synergy is when groups of muscles are wired together to create a specific movement. One of many theories is that part of normal development, humans develop certain primitive muscle synergies to take the burden off of the brain from having to “sync up” a set group of muscles every time specific movements are performed. For example, each phase of the walking cycle requires certain muscles to “link together” to enable humans to be able to repeat that one phase of the walking cycle over and over and over again without having to “think” about it. Pretty cool, right? I now, if you have been following me for a while, I know you get sick of amazing I think the brain is. But what can I say, it is pretty amazing.

If you are more a visual person, this is my best stab and explaining muscle synergies in vector form. Command leaves the brain, this automatically activated specific muscle synergies which is like a “one stop shop” to “get” all the muscles you want for that movement in one shot.

vector image of functional muscle synergies


What is a real-life example of a functional muscle synergy?

For example, reaching into a cupboard requires shoulder and elbow muscles to fire in a specific order at a specific time during that movement.  Muscle synergies are what allow us to consistently reach to the desired target.

Another example is walking. Walking is multiple functional muscle synergies. This is what allows us to consistently perform the same (stepping) movement over and over again without thinking about it. Pretty cool, right? I know. The brain is so cool.

muscle synergies shown during the gait cycle

Coordinated Movement is a Beautiful Song

finger pointing toward music notes

No doubt, smooth coordinated music is like music to my eyes. No seriously, I am that obsessed with appreciating the art of movement.  And that got me thinking. Music is not much different. Music is but a few notes skillfully positioned to create a beautiful sound. I can’t help but make the comparison here between this and how the muscles of the body are skillfully times and linked together to create an artful smooth, beautiful, coordinated movement.

Just like we can be mesmerized by a beautiful piece of music, one could say the same thing about movement. Once all the muscle synergies are engrained, and muscles are wired together, movement becomes that masterpiece.