Getting Hip with Anterior Pelvic Tilt

Anterior pelvic tilt doesn’t discriminate.  If you have a body, you are susceptible to the woes of excessive anterior pelvic tilt.  Sounds scary, doesn’t it?  Considering this movement compensation can cause hamstring strain, disc herniation, sacro-iliac joint instability, low back pain, and hip problems, it can be problematic. No one likes it when their body is in pain. However, it doesn’t have to be such a roadblock.  Let’s take a look at what can be done to correct the problems of anterior pelvic tilt and get a body moving pain-free again.

What is Anterior Pelvic Tilt?

Anterior pelvic tilt, also termed lower crossed syndrome, describes when the top of the pelvis tilts forward.  That in of itself is not a problem, generally speaking, good range of motion in each joint segment is a positive thing.  The issue is when a joint action becomes excessive and stuck in a position due to muscular imbalance.  Excessive joint actions are promoted by the uneven muscle pull on bones, causing joints to lose their center, and skewing force translation from one segment to another.  This is a big problem for movement efficiency and the neuromyofascial web.

In my experience helping clients move pain-free, for the most part, people know what they need to do.  At least partly.  There’s a general understanding that muscles need to be stretched and others need to be strengthened.  But what muscles should you stretch? What muscles should be strengthened? Is that enough?

Working with Movement Compensation

Let’s clarify a movement compensation, like anterior pelvic tilt, so we can discuss a possible solution.  Essentially, a movement compensation is a shift in the balance or organization of parts in the kinetic chain. The kinetic chain can be described as the primary movement system and its interrelationships through the neuromyofascial web.  These shifts of alignment cause tissue strain and damage. If not addressed, over time, the movement compensation becomes “normal” as the nervous system adopts the repetitive pattern.

When an excessive joint action is present, we can determine what muscles are too short and consequently, pulling the joint out of alignment.  In the case of anterior pelvic tilt, the hip flexor complex, the lumbar erector spinae, and quadratus lumborum are often short.  These muscles collectively pull on the pelvis causing excessive hip flexion and lumbar extension.

Muscles on the other side of the joint often present as longer than optimal resting length and include gluteus maximus, hamstring complex, rectus abdominus, and external oblique.  With the pelvis serving as the keystone of the body, transferring forces between all parts of the kinetic chain, any pelvic misalignment also requires core stabilization training in the corrective process.

To create long term change, the patterning process should alter the the nervous system’s motor program, as the orchestra playing the song “pelvic stability” is out of tune.  There are several players involved and the trick is getting each one to listen to the other.

Restore and Connect

Movement efficiency, in part, comes from the unobstructed flow of movement forces through each segment or system of the body.  This requires muscles on either side of a joint to be the proper length so the joint is centered and can roll, spin, and/or glide appropriately.  Part of the re-patterning process includes lengthening muscles that are too short and activating muscles that are too long.  However, two other elements need to be included for powerful results: establishing yield and integrating the body map.

Unraveling a movement compensation like anterior pelvic tilt is a learning process called neuromuscular re-education.  Preparing the body to learn includes restoring tone to baseline through active relaxation techniques and somatic explorations.  This can look like yielding in constructive rest position, rolling point of contact exercises like pelvic clocks, any variety of stillness, listening, or breathing practices, and improvisational organic movement initiated by the body experience.  The key here is to release excessive tension from the holding pattern, create inner spaciousness and grounding, and to enliven the felt-sense (tracking information from the sensory-feedback loop).

The next step is working with the overactive muscles directly (the too short muscles) by applying self-myofascial release (SMR) techniques and lengthening interventions like static stretching or PNF stretching.  Then, for the underactive muscles (the too long muscles), the focus is on specific activation exercises to increase the muscle’s force production.

The final element is to connect the new learning together through integration.  Integration exercises are whole body movement patterns that require multiple muscle groups to work together.  Remember all the instruments in the orchestra?  Now that each one has been heard and given feedback, they are ready to make changes and play together again. This is the element that re-wires the motor program the nervous system calls to action.  If you are familiar with exercises that promote various movement subsystems and Anatomy Trains, those work well here.

An Intelligent Motion Sequence to Correct Anterior Pelvic Tilt

To correct a dysfunctional holding pattern, a movement compensation, a variety of specific interventions performed in a particular sequence deliver the best results.  An Intelligent Motion Sequence is a unique program based on 2 parts: Restore and Connect.  These parts include several elements as discussed above and listed here:

RESTORE

  • Establish yield, drop-in to the practice
  • SMR techniques for overactive muscles
  • Lengthening interventions for overactive muscles
    • Probable overactive muscles include TFL, pectineus, iliopsoas, rectus femoris, sartorius, lumbar erector spinae, and quadratus lumborum

CONNECT

  • Activation exercises for underactive tissue
    • probable underactive muscles include gluteus maximus, hamstrings, rectus abdominus, external oblique, and core stabilization system
  • Integration exercises that coordinate whole body movement patterns

Knowing what exercises to perform and for what purpose is key.  Doing the sequence daily is a requirement, as consistent repetition creates change.  Applying the learning to your training and pedestrian lifestyle is what transfers the skill-set in the corrective work.  With awareness and commitment, in several months time a noticeable difference can occur in movement integration and quality of living. Anterior pelvic tilt, or any movement compensation for that matter, has the potential to shift and help the force flow.

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