By our very own Liam Walsh.
Using our force-sensitive treadmill and high-speed cameras, we are able to interpret the finer details regarding the biomechanics of movement. Despite the number of variables present in the population that we have analyzed, there are a couple of problems that present themselves more than others and have been shown to lead to a variety of compensation patterns, and in turn, chronic/acute injuries.
One such problem is hyperextension of the low back during the pre-swing or “toe-off” phase of gait. It can be present during walking but tends to be more prominent in running. The hyperextension in the low back can stem from a few different muscular or biomechanical inefficiencies. The most common that we see is that of tight hip flexor muscles paired with an inactive core/glutes. We want to maintain a neutral pelvic and spinal position when we walk and run. This means not allowing the pelvis to roll forward during any phase of our gait. When the hip flexors are too tight and shortened, it rotates the pelvis forward. The glutes and core muscles are meant to counter the forward roll of the pelvis and act to rotate the pelvis back into a neutral position. If the glutes and core are not active, then we are left with only the force from the hip flexors rolling the pelvis forward which can be seen by the excessive curvature in the low back.
To help prevent this from becoming a chronic pattern, we suggest a combination of stretching, myofascial release, and strengthening. Specifically, a 3-D hip flexor stretch that helps to focus on the engagement of the glutes and abdominal muscles to help stretch the hip flexors. This helps your brain make the connection to relax your hip flexors when you engage your glutes and core. Secondly, any myofascial release techniques that you are comfortable with (foam rolling, tennis ball or lacrosse ball release, TheraCane, etc.) that involve attacking the trigger points specifically through the hip flexors, quadriceps, glutes, and the low back. Finally, the strengthening aspect of the process. As with any exercise that you are performing, the isolation of a specific muscle group should be your highest priority. We want to focus on isolating the glutes and core while focusing on the relaxation of the hip flexor muscles and the other muscles of the hip, low back, and lower extremity.
Exercises that utilize a miniband are among the best to build stability and activation in the glute muscles. Exercises like clamshells, side-lying hip abduction, fire hydrants, and double leg bridges are some of our favorites to teach and are demonstrated on our website. Building off that stability and activation, we want to start building muscular strength to help increase the loading capacity of those muscles. Exercises like deadlifts and squats are unmatched in their ability to build muscle not only in the glutes, but also in the core, and back which helps to create a chain of healthy and active muscles that can make all the difference in pain and injury management.