My favorite band of the last decade, The Wave Pictures, has a new album coming out in a couple of months so I am very pleased. THis is an older video from one of their side projects, Dan of Green Gables.
There are a number of muscles that are connected to and basically wrap around the pelvis that I will refer to as the pelvic belt.
The pelvis is the center of the body. From it flow the legs, spine and arms. If it is in a balanced alignment the aforementioned trunk and extremities have a chance to work well. If it tends to live out of a neutral position it is hard for anything above it or below it to function successfully.
And what of the muscles that immediately surround the pelvis?
If you have back pain, hip pain, groin pain and the list can go on, it is likely that the psoas muscle, my favorite muscle and one I have been writing about all week, is always part of the problem if not the cause.
My take is that if you have a problem with one of these muscles you are most likely to have a problem with all of them.
Here is the basic list of the muscles of the pelvic belt:
- The three gluteal muscles
- Psoas major
- Quadratus lumborum
- Tensor fasciae latae
- The Gamelli’s
- The Obturators
This is no great pronouncement by any means but it is hopefully helpful in understanding the universality of muscle dysfunction. I write endlessly about the psoas and other muscles that suffer for assorted reasons but the truth is these muscles are never alone.
And when it comes to the pelvis all of these muscles tend to suffer if any one of them is in trouble.
What is interesting about these general pronouncements is they never, and I mean never, talk about how you should walk.
The psoas major is my favorite muscle, the body’s most important muscle and the main engine of walking. And my pronouncement today is walking is only good for you if you use the psoas correctly.
Three muscles connect the legs to the spine (psoas, piriformis and gluteus maximus) but only the psoas connects from the front of the body and to the lumbar spine. In fact the psoas created the curve in the lumbar spine when we came up to stand and its connection to this section of the body is what makes it so important.
If the skeleton is well aligned which means the leg bones, or femurs, are directly under the pelvis, the psoas can initiate each step from the deep core. What this looks like when walking is a foot that falls under the knee and relatively close to the pelvis, equidistant from the opposite leg.
The question then is what initiates the step if not the psoas? What usually happens is the legs move forward too far and too fast which leaves the quadriceps (thigh) and adductor (inner thighs) muscles to begin the journey of ambulation.
When walking is going well every step is a spinal twist that not only moves the body but stimulates, lubricates and tones it. The body that moves well is a self-healing machine and that healing only happens with a functional psoas.
When we are walking well with the good use of the psoas, the pelvis tilts and rotates in such a way as to create the above mentioned spinal twist. When we fail to use the psoas and walk correctly the pelvis tends to get stuck and hike up from side to side rather than tilt and rotate.
This very common pattern eliminates so many of the possible benefits derived from walking correctly with the psoas.
Steps that are initiated with the quadriceps and adductors tend to move through the outside of the foot which minimizes the ability of the psoas to help with walking. Every step we take wants to end through the inner foot on the mound of the big toe.
The big toe corresponds to the inner upper thigh and the psoas. When a step is completed successfully the psoas of the back leg is activated through this inner foot/inner thigh connection.
This successful movement through the back leg stabilizes that side of the body and spine as the opposite leg and psoas is released to come forward.
There is very little in our musculature that is not involved with good walking technique. The psoas major, iliacus, all four pairs of abdominal muscles, erector spinea, IT Band, and so on, up and down the chain of good movement.
Sometimes these posts get away from me. There will be another one coming soon that details all of the muscles of walking that are engaged with each step (which is what this one set out to be).
The big pronouncement of today’s post is that it is hard to get out of lower back pain if the femurs, or leg bones, don’t sit directly under the pelvis (as in the middle image of the middle image above).
Making this bony alignment happen is the magic ingredient for the relief of lower back pain. Lower back pain can happen for many reasons and sometimes there are structural problems that we have very little control over.
We can be born with, or inherit spinal issues, that occur before we are even aware of our own movements. Other times accidents, injuries or even illness can create an environment that leads to pain and dysfunction.
But I have found that poor posture is the cause of a great deal of back pain. Back pain is so common and so diverse in its origin and manifestation that its causes and effects can never really be lumped into one easy package but posture can cover a wide range of back problems.
Today we will look at my favorite muscle—the psoas—and how its poor alignment can render the erector spinae muscles, that are meant to extend our spine, useless.
The curve in our lower spine is what allows us to be upright and walk on two legs. This curve, when functional, facilitates the transfer of weight from the head down to the pelvis and legs.
The curve in our lower spine, created by the psoas when we come to stand and walk upright on two legs, is needed for the erector spinae muscles to do their job and extend the spine upwards.
The erector muscles, as I wrote last week, work in a chain up and down the spine. All links in the chain need to be aligned for the chain to work well. The chain can only work well if the legs, pelvis and lower back are aligned so that the psoas when properly placed, allows access for the extension of the vertebral column. This happens when the femue bone sits directly under the center of the lumbar spine.
I have written about this in so many contexts but when the legs pelvis and lumbar spine are correctly situated the psoas can work like a pulley to allow for the full extension of the spine.
If the legs sink forward of the pelvis as they so often do, the psoas loses the tension created when is crosses the rim of the pelvis to align under the back half of the body.
If the psoas aligns correctly the lumbar vertebrae are pulled forward and down and they can find optimal length and spacing in a gentle curve which frees the erector spinae muscles to extend the spine as designed.
The end result is a more spacious lower back because the good alignment of the skeleton allow the muscles that are meant to extend the spine to do their job as planned.
Here is a tune from my latest favorite record from Natural Child.
Growing up in Brooklyn, for whatever reason, I was always into southern rock and country. My brother had a friend who wore a cowboy hat and could fart on demand (two very compelling traits for young me) and he turned me on to Jerry Reed at a young age. I had a WIllie Nelson record (Red Headed Stranger) that I loved and to say I wore out the first Marshall Tucker Band record doesn’t do justice to how many times I played it.
I wonder why but I don’t fight it.
Sharon’s Blog: DayBooks
Thumbing a ride and other digital initiatives: I drew two left hands (above) because I’m working on reinforcing a connection to my non-dominant hand. Sometimes it seems as if it’s just along for the ride. I keyboard with it, but in weight bearing activities (like a nice long downward facing dog) I’ve noticed that it tends to lie back a little. I’m experimenting with bringing the thumb inward a bit, I’m looking at Jonathan’s hand meditation : http://blog.corewalking.com/alignment-thumb/. As a subject for a drawing, the thumb forms a much more graceful shape when it’s extended out. But a much nicer palm hollow is formed when you move it in, toward the rest of the hand. It’s not so easy to move the fingernail to the midline. But I’ll keep trying. It seems to send energy back up from the floor — from a more stable,more engaged base.
I don’t know what this has to do with the feet, and I do I like to think of the hands and feet together. After all, there are phalanges in both. But there is a lot of flexibility in the hand and fingers, and a lot of strength in the feet. Maybe the hands need to get a little more like the feet, and the feet need to get a little more like the hands. At least it’s interesting to try it. And it’s always fun to bring a new exploration into downward dog: exploring the feet, toe by toe and bringing the fingernails into the midline as a bit of push-back.
Anyway, I’m digressing. Time to bring those fingers closer together and to push some floor. Searching for the infinite midline does interesting things to my forearm. And my left hand is finally getting into the act.
Here is a collection of articles from the past couple of weeks that didn’t make it into posts. Enjoy the weekend.
Watch a master at work. This is a wonderful anatomy video.
I spend a lot of time thinking about continence. I am fairly obsessed with digestion. On that note enjoy the poop chart above.
Here is an article about recovery from exercise and injury. I have thought about this a lot in the last few years and wrote about it recently. I always favor a counter-intuitive approach and often find that my instinct is borne out in the long run.
One of the first blog posts I wrote on my first failed attempt to write a blog concerned cities that were fining people for building garderns like the one above.
I posted Amy Cuddy’s inspriing TED talk last week and here is an article that mines similar territory.
I am a huge fan of historical fiction and am in the middle of a book concerning the battle of Potiers during the hundred years War of the Roses between England and France. This article about ancient Roman bones takes us a little further back than that to explore the diet of Roman gladiators.
And finally, though I don’t generally approve of these types of things (because I am a curmudgeon) this video had a lot of moments that rang true and hit home. And speaks more to the Brooklyn of my childhood than now. The borough has more than just Italians and Irish and for whatever reason, my people are underrepresented. And there are also a few blacks, muslims and others here as well but you can’t have everything.
Yesterday I wrote about the transversospinalis, the deepest layer of muscles to the spine, that include the multifidus, the rotatores and the semispinalis. Today we will look at the muscles directly above the transversospinalis—the erector spinae muscles.
The erector spinae are three different muscles that run along the spine from the head to the pelvis. They are extensor muscles that work to straighten the spine and maintain its erect posture. In yoga a perfect example of the erector spinae at work is coming up to stand from a flat back posture with the hands on the hips.
Not only is this a clear example of the erector spinae at work, but the ability, or not, to perform this action can tell you all you need to know about the length and tone of these muscles in your body. From the flat back to a standing position the erectors along with the gluteus maximus and hamstrings
The three erector spinae muscles are:
From the inside out the spinalis is closest to the spine and the iliocostalis the furthest away, leaving longissimus in the middle. Each of the three muscles can be broken down into three parts.
The erector spinea are sized differently depending on where they fall along the spine. It extends up and down the entire spine and is thicker in the lumbar area tapering slightly above and below. It is covered at its base by the thoracolumbar fascia and at the top by the nuchal ligament.
All three of these groups follow similar functions they are help the body bend forward, they extend the entire spine as I described in the beginning, and they also assist in the rotation of the whole spine with the exception of the spinalis that is only involved in the rotation of the cervical spine.
Any reader of the blog knows that the psoas is my favorite muscle and I think that the relationship between the psoas and the erector spinae muscles is one of the more important one in the body and one that is profoundly affected by our tendencies towards poor movement patterns and posture.
I’ll do another post soon on how the psoas interacts with the erector spinae muscles and how a tight psoas might affect these muscles.
There are three layers of muscle on the back of the body that are associated with the spine and stretch from the pelvis to the head. These deep muscles of the spine are largely responsible for maintaining posture and moving the spine. From my humble perspective few of these muscles are being accessed successfully.
If you are familiar with what I am on about, my take is that everyone habitually leans backwards through life. This tends to result in overly short muscles on the back and muscles that are too long at the front.
The spinal muscles that I am writing about today are grouped in layers as deep, intermediate and superficial. The deepest muscles are closest to the spine.
These deep muscles of the spine while not all connected to each other tend to work in a chain. Poor posture often result in a broken chain where misalignment in on area affects the whole. These muscles follow different patterns of attachment with some crossing one vertebra and others crossing two or more, though none cross more than six.
So let’s get on to exploring the deep layer of spinal muscles.
Multifidus are short, thin triangular muscles that provide essential support and stability for the spine. Running from the sacrum to the axis, or second cervical vertebrae, and attaching to the spinous process of each vertebra, these muscles when toned properly support the spine to reduce degeneration which troubles so many people as we age.
They help to take pressure off the discs of the spine allowing the weight of the upper body to be successfully distributed along the spine. The muscles above the multifidus keep the spine straight while these deep muscles help with the spine’s stability.
The multifidus lie under three of our four abdominal muscles (not the rectus abdominis at the front) as well as the erector spinea (post coming soon).
The rotatores muscles lie beneath the multifidus and run up and down the entire spine though they are most present in the thoracic region. These are very small muscle with a quadrate shape.
There are eleven of these muscles on either side of the spine originating from the transverse processes of one vertebra and moves up to insert into the spinous process of one of the next two vertebra.
These muscles, along with the multifidus and the semispinalis (which follows below), allow for spinal rotation and extension of the spine.
And as they follow the whole length of the spine, the rotatores are also involved with our proprioception, or the sense of where we are in space.
The semispinalis are located on the sides of the spine and can be divided into three different muscles.
- semispinalis dorsi.
- semispinalis cervicis
- semispinalis capitis.
The semispinalis dorsi and semispinalis cervicis assist in the extension and rotation of the spine. The highest muscle, the semispinalis capitis also helps to bend the head.
These muscles attach on the transverse processes (the bony projections on the spine of each vertebra) of the lower vertebrae and reach up and across several vertebrae to attach again farther up. Of the muscles covered in this post, only semispinalis capitis connects somewhere other than the spine, as it inserts on the occipital bone of the cranium.
These three muscle groups comprising the deep muscles of the spine form the transversospinalis, essentially tie the spine together in many different patterns, connecting the transverse processes to the spinous processes in an assortment of ways.
Together they have an influence on stability, movement and proprioception. The most important thing to note about these muscles though is that even though they are individual muscles they essentially form a chain that requires each and every link to be active and participating for them all to work.
Poor posture, especially in the form of leaning backwards, makes getting all of these muscles to work together as a team a very difficult proposition.
When it comes to the psoas and quadratus lumborum, you can’t have problems in one without having trouble with the other.
They are two muscles with completely different functions yet they connect to the spine in a similar fashion which leaves them inextricably related.
The quadratus lumborum as its name implies is a quadrate muscle which means that it acts as a stabilizer–in this case stabilizing the pelvis to the ribcage. It functions mainly is as a side bending muscle.
The psoas is a hip flexor that also externally rotates the thigh. It also lifts the trunk off of the floor from a supine position. In addition, the spine stack vertically above the pelvis with the essential aid of the psoas, and it is also the most important muscle in a successful gait pattern.
Looking at the middle image above it is fairly easy to see–since they attach to almost the exact same places on the spine– why the tone in one of these two muscles so profoundly affects the other.
I’ll write another post about this soon but what goes for the psoas and quadratus lumborum goes for all of the muscles in what I’ll refer to as the pelvic belt.
There will also be another post coming where I will throw the diaphragm into the psoas and quadratus lumborum mix.
Using the tight psoas to start–the function of the psoas is to pull the lumbar vertebrae forward and down. A tight psoas on either one or both sides pulls the lumbar further forward and down. This tends to increase the curve of the lumbar spine but it also changes the relationships of the muscles that attach there.
The quadratus lumborum is like a bed sheet pinned along three sides and spread out evenly. When the psoas is tight that right side of the Ql can no longer expand as much as the left and you have a lopsided rectangle.
At that point you can hardly blame the quadratus lumborum for failing to function well.