Even though we live in a three-dimensional world, we often get caught in two-dimensional ways of thinking and doing. As physical therapists and coaches, it is important that we cultivate awareness of how our models inform our practice. Here is my single perspective with three examples of 2-D paradigms and the danger of not striving for that 3rd dimension (or beyond) of understanding (did you see what I did there? with the numbers?!).
1- Our science is 2-D
Even though there is a need in science (or scientific experiments) to control for certain parameters in order to distill useful conclusions, we must be careful that the constraints that are placed do not themselves lead to false conclusions. A couple of my favorite people pointing out these ways in which science (or at least 2-D science) does not paint the whole picture of what is going on in the body are: Katy Bowman and Thomas Myers. In her book, “Movement Matters,” Bowman describes the importance of integrating 3-D forces into our understanding of muscle contractions to explain muscles’ actions not only at joints but on structures like arteries found around and within muscles. As Bowman writes, “sarcomeres don’t only shorten lengthwise during contraction–they also bulge.” (sarcomeres are how we describe the smallest functional unit of a muscle).
Meyers, author of the book “Anatomy Trains,” continues this theme of 3-D muscle movement by describing the connections between muscles via fascial planes. Check out this video in which he describes some of these fascial connections:
2- Our applications are 2-D
We must move beyond our 2-D language and understanding of anatomy and biomechanics if we want to evaluate and treat effectively. One example of this is Mike Reinold’s (DPT) description of the importance of assessing posterior capsule tightness in the scapular plane and NOT a purely anterior/posterior direction:
3- Our thinking is 2-D (or even 1-D!)
This is often talked about as “black and white thinking” or the tendency to think in absolutes. I have also seen this in the way that most people want things to be either one of two choices (an inability to tolerate ambiguity, perhaps?). For example, CrossFit is either “A phenomenal training program” or “the best new way to get injured”. Often, though, seemingly diametrically opposed ideas can actually both be true. What if CrossFit is BOTH a great way to train fitness (for some people in some applications) and pretty darn dangerous (again, for some people in some applications). This idea of reconciling the truthfulness of two seemingly opposing views or experiences is actually a foundational concept that is taught in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Used as a therapy, it is taught to people with certain thought disturbances, but I think the idea is wise enough to be applicable to most people’s thought processes. But, that would mean viewing psychopathology on a continuum of severity instead of as a categorical variable (e.g., the view that we all have some element of “disordered” thinking vs. saying that you are either clinically depressed or you’re not depressed at all). You see how that tendency to categorize or polarize is oh so prevalent?
Indeed, there are some amazing 2-D models, this video of the contact juggler Michael Moschen is a pretty captivating example of kinesthetic mastery in a 2-D plane:
However, as I stated above, there are some real dangers with subscribing to 2-D models of thinking and behaving. Perhaps awareness of these 2-D paradigms is the first step in not getting seduced by their simplicity or parsimony. The next step may be to actively embrace the additional complexity and in some cases uncertainty that an added dimension provides. My challenge you is to start thinking and moving outside of the 2-D box (or triangle?).