The Butt Part 3: The Backstory on Pelvic Alignment!
by Susan Haines, MFA, NKT, FMT, IASTM
If you’ve been following my previous posts about the butt on the Muse blog, you know the backstory here-- pun intended! I’m bringing our focus to the other side of the pelvic alignment story—the posterior pelvic tilt!
The Posterior Pelvic Tilt (PPT) hasn’t received a lot of press these day due to the fact that its high profile sibling, the darling of the computer age: Anterior Pelvic Tilt (APT), gets most of the attention. This is the one taking all the credit for low back pain and tight hip flexors resulting from too much prolonged sitting. You can see why the APT is Queen for a lot of bodies. But the PPT deserves our attention too, in fact many dancers are working in this misaligned position because it offers us an exaggerated kinesthetic sensation of working the glutes and deep rotators, and lower abdominals. Dancers like to FEEL that they are working the right muscles and regions of the body, and moving into even a slight Posterior Pelvic Tilt can offer us that elusive feeling that we are doing *something* to find stability in the hip and leg. A dancer may also be working in a posterior pelvic tilt due to alignment cues from the teacher. We all respond differently to imagery, and I see many students try to “lengthen their back” by slightly tucking the pelvis under and holding a Posterior Pelvic Tilt.
Some dancers may be working in a posterior pelvic tilt due to body image issues. At too many studios across the country, you will see dancers in profile to the mirror, craning their neck sideways to catch a glimpse of how their tush is shaping up, or sticking out! I’ve worked with many dancers who say that tucking the pelvis under was a way to look like they had “less of a butt”. I am hopeful that a more body positive society with knowledge about the FUNCTION of the glutes can overtake our obsession with the FORM of the butt that causes so many dancers to contort into positions in hopes of appearing smaller or thinner or longer or shorter or curvier.
In the same way that sucking in your abdominals for aesthetic purposes interferes with breath and neurological core control, tucking the pelvis for aesthetic purposes is going to create issues with muscular activation and neurological response from the mechanoreceptors in the hip socket and spinal ligaments. Let’s celebrate all bodies and honor their power, instead of trying to alter shape and size with strategies like these.
Try moving your pelvis into a posterior tilt, standing in parallel on two feet and slightly tucking the pelvis under. This results in tilting your pelvic halves upward, and it may offer you the sensation that you have created length in your low back as the pelvis tucks under. Taking out the spinal curves by lengthening the low back actually creates the potential for more injury as it alters how the spine can absorb compressive forces and load.
As you hold this tucked pelvis, you may feel your lowest external rotators of the hip activate or be tensioned in this position, you may feel a stretching in the front of the hip or feel the femur being pushed toward the front of the hip capsule. Or you may feel like “hey I’m just standing here, this feels pretty normal!”
Lift one leg and notice what happens to your pelvic alignment. Do you stay in the posterior pelvic tilt with pelvis tucked under, or does your body respond in a different way? Maybe you even move towards an anterior pelvic tilt by flexing at the hip to get more stability on one leg. Noticing how we react to a single leg balance can help us understand where we might need to build stability through more functional alignment.
The body is complex! There can be many factors affecting our alignment and movement patterns, from all the way down at the foot to up at the neck and head—and everywhere in between. The pelvic halves and sacrum do move in a complicated relationship to each other and the femurs, we are trying to ensure that we don’t interfere with this by locking the pelvis into a tuck. More on this in a later post! It is important to recognize that misalignments are the body trying its best with the information at hand. So, pat yourself on the back and let’s see if your body could use new or different information that will help you discover greater strength, stability and power.
As dancers know, finding proper alignment is important—but in this case the usual visual cues of alignment, stacking the bones on top of each other doesn’t really help us. The alignment we need requires a much deeper awareness in order to centrify the hip socket. The hip socket with all its curved surfaces doesn’t really “stack up” the in the way we envision a vertical tower. Finding balance at the hip socket requires more of a “centering” approach. When the femur is centered in the hip socket, there can be more efficiency in the joint from a mechanical and neurological perspective due to the signals sent from the ligaments and muscle spindles to and from the brain. When we have a joint being loaded into an imbalanced position(like holding the pelvis in a tilt in order to crank more turnout or find stability), these compensation movements can become ingrained in the motor cortex, “essentially reprogramming normal movement patterns” (Page, et al, 2010).
Vladimir Janda, a famous biomechanist stated that musculoskeletal injury can result from: altered movement patterns due to muscle imbalance, which causes biomechanical inefficiency and overload of structures over time. This ‘overload of structures over time’ pretty much sums up the repetitive nature of dance training. (Page, et al, 2010)
For dancers holding a PPT or any moderate to extreme misalignment in weight bearing for extended periods of time on one leg, this may be setting up an movement pattern that can result in injury. Holding an extreme tucked pelvis can cause the head of the femur to be pushed towards the front of the hip capsule, meaning the ligaments at the front are consistently being overstretched. Ligaments, once they are stretched beyond their capabilities, don’t stretch back. It’s like the elastic in an old bathing suit, once it goes, its gone! And as dancers, we need to keep our ligamentous elasticity working for us as long as possible!
Dancers need strong, functional glutes that offer stability and power. The key to building this power is understanding how to use the muscles around the hip and lower trunk to support movement, not just being able to find the “perfect” position in a standing alignment. Because dancers want to do a whole lot more than just stand there in place! This means building requisite strength to handle the demands of our art form. For some dance styles this means the ability to drop deep into a wide stance with the lower body and shift your weight to the ground smoothly, for others this means maintaining low positions with full knee flexion and returning to standing effortlessly, and for others it means holding stability on one leg while the other is gesturing up somewhere by your ear. And all of the movements in between! Finding the centering of the femur head in the hip socket and a connection to your glutes will offer power and efficiency for all these varied movements.
We’ll start by bringing awareness to a new positioning of the pelvis, which of course requires the whole body to find balance with the fascial lines, and curves of the spine and trunk.
Begin by rolling out the lower gluteal region, the “underbutt” area: medium pressure moving slowly on the lower deep external rotator and gluteal region, and high hamstring area. Using a pinky ball or softer ball based on dancer preference, slowly roll out the right side for 90 seconds, then progress through the video exercises for the right side. Then proceed with rolling out the left side.
Here is a video with a few exercises to help center the femur and bring awareness to your pelvic alignment.
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For more information about centering the femur and pelvic alignment, check out my earlier Apolla Muse Blog posts on the butt and visit www.danceconditioningtechnique.com
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Susan Haines is a Dance Kinesiologist based in Bellingham, WA bridging the latest research in fascia, biomechanics, and neuroscience into dance training. Susan is a Level III NeuroKinetic Therapy practitioner; a sophisticated treatment modality that addresses the causes of dysfunctional movement in the motor control center. This work led her to create Dance Conditioning Technique, a unique training system that focuses on foundational strength. She has worked with dancers from American Ballet Theatre, American Repertory Ballet, Ballet Austin, and Oregon Balle Theatre to create conditioning programs for greater ease in turnout, pointe work, and partnering. She has an MFA from UNCG-Greesnboro where she studied with leaders in the field of Somatics and Kinesiology: Dr. Jill Green and B.J. Sullivan. She is a certified Pilates instructor who studied under Carolyn Watson, MS, LaC, Karen Clippinger, and Franklin Method with Eric Franklin and Tom McCook. She is trained in functional movement patterning and taping with Dr. Perry Nickelston and is a certified FMT Mobility Specialist. She is on faculty at Western Washington University teaching contemporary, ballet, jazz, and kinesiology in her Apolla Shocks. She has presented her dance conditioning research at conferences nationwide.