Why is it important to relax the inner thigh muscles for good posture and movement?
This blog refers to an exercise on my DVD, “Core Movement Integration”. Basic to good posture is to have your pelvis in a neutral position. This means that it is under the least amount of stress and is free to move in any direction. One common reason for the pelvis to be in a strain position is that the muscles of the inner legs are too tight. This pulls the front of the pelvis down and lifts the back of the pelvis up causing the low back muscles to shorten. Another name for these muscles are the adductors. They comprise the groin area. These muscles start at the bottom of the pelvis in the front and insert into the inner thigh bone or femoris.
Some effects of tension in this area are:
- Low back pain which results from the back being excessively arched.
- Narrow gait which may lead to feeling unstable and lead to falls. It is a bit like taking the field sobriety test where you walk a straight line. Both feet stay very close together.
- Difficulty standing fully erect. These muscles basically tilt the pelvis forward and the back muscles strain to keep the torso upright.
- Collapsed arches which can lead to foot, knee and hip problems.
- Heavy gait which may contribute to fatigue when walking.
As a therapist, achieving a neutral pelvis is basic to long term relief of any muscular strain. Chronic back pain is very much related to a chronic muscle tension pattern that takes support away from the spine and makes all movement more difficult. It is not so much about strengthening weak muscles but about dividing the effort amongst the whole body. The leg muscles should do their part in reducing the work load of the back muscles. They are on the same team. They should work together. You are most comfortable when your whole body has a little slack in all the tissue. If you have chronic back pain be sure to add this muscle group to your treatment. Most of my chronic low back patients who have received conventional care report that there is little attention paid to this area.
The best position to have these muscles massaged is side lying. The bottom leg is fully supported and responds better to any massage technique. I usually bend the top leg and place it forward on the table with put a pillow under it for comfort. Not only can the therapist access the tissue easily, but it is easy to roll the torso and legs to facilitate the gliding of the different layers of tissue of over each other.
Notice people walking. If you look at the head when they step on a foot and it goes down, they are walking into the ground and not off the ground. Every joint is stressed more. If you look at the knees and feet you may see the foot collapsing and the knee may roll slightly inward. It has much less spring. This is partly the result of too much tension in the adductors.
You will see this gait commonly in people with Parkinson’s Disease. So far I have observed a 100% correlation between tight adductors and unsteady gait, shuffling and instability in this group. Imagine how you would walk if you had a big rubber bad pulling your knees together. This is the effect of too much tension in these inner leg muscles.
In my DVD I have a section called the “adductor move” which enables you to relax this critical muscle group with the result that you can lengthen it with less resistance. This is different than most stretches. The goal is use your whole body to create slack in the muscle and then your are free to lengthen it without any resistance. You get to experience what it feels like to move freely and lightly with a much greater range of comfortable movement. It’s like what it feels like to take off a wet suit that is too small and putting on one that is the right size. All movement is easier.
Some key ideas that I emphasize in this video clip are:
- Initiate the movement with the opposite leg and flow through the target leg. Using a dance analogy, the male leg would initiate the movement and the female leg would relax in the guided direction. Some of you may remember Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. They were famous dancers in the 1930s. Fred initiated the move and Ginger followed. So you could say that you dance the target leg “Gingerly”.
- Stay in your comfort zone. Your brain is monitoring to see if there is any danger in the action. You want to create such a safe move that there is no unnecessary tension. If there is a history of past injury then there may be some self protective tension. There is a certain apprehension in letting down your guard. It’s like you are being tested to see if you are smart enough to avoid hurting yourself. It is a form of kinesiophobia, fear of movement.
- Quality is more important than quantity. Once you learn to relax the leg and sequence the movement properly, you will find you will be able to make it bigger over time. Forcing the movement will inhibit your ability to relax and could cause strain.
In summary: Chronic pain patterns generally involve the whole body. All tissue and movement are connected. Tight adductors can easily disconnect the lower body from the upper, creating more work for all muscles with more stress on all of our supporting joints. As we get older it is common to have some degree of wear in our joints. When it shows up on an X-ray it may be diagnosed as arthritis. You have some degree of control over how much pain this generates by walking lightly and dividing the effort through the body. I hope this article and the accompanying video help you to manage your body more efficiently. It is really a joy when all your parts move in synergy.