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Pelvic Integrity - Centering the Core

by Liz Koch(more info)

listed in bodywork, originally published in issue 100 - June 2004

Key to skeletal balance, a sense of orientation and muscular coordination, the balanced pelvis forms a rim-like base for the spinal vertebrae, rib cage, shoulder girdle and head.

Like the sprout growing up to form leaves and down to become roots; pelvic core integrity expresses itself in two directions simultaneously. The pelvic basin is responsible for not only being the base of support for the upper body but for transferring weight through the femur heads down through the knees, ankles and feet. How weight transfers through each leg and foot is dependent upon the positioning of the pelvic basin. Only when the pelvis is gravitationally centred can the feet receive and distribute weight evenly.

Pelvic instability shows itself as pelvic tilts, forward flexion, twists, dips or torques. Symptoms associated with instability include mid and low back pain, hip socket tension, leg length discrepancies, knee and ankle problems, TMJ and jaw pain, difficulty in breathing, groin pain, shoulder pain, difficulty in standing and walking, an inability to stand on both feet and excessive muscle tension throughout the body. Even headaches and dizziness may be traced to pelvic instability.

These diverse and complex symptoms reflect the innate involvement of the pelvis with three distinct bio-rhythms. Not only does the pelvic keystone provide the foundation for muscular-skeletal support but it cradles the meningeal-cranial-sacral system (the dynamic fluid relationship between sacrum and cranium) and provides the hard drive for the proprioceptive nervous system (our energetic sense of orientation).

The Pelvic Basin

The pelvis consists of three major bones; two hunches called the iliums and the central bone called the sacrum. Working together the three large bones provide a container for the internal life of organs and viscera. The core muscle, the psoas, moves through the pelvic basin creating a dynamic and supple support for the internal organs. The iliacus muscle, sharing a tendon with the psoas at the lesser trocanter, fans up and opens, lining the inside of each ilium. It is the iliacus muscle that helps shape the inner bowl of the basin. The muscles attaching from the sacrum to the femurs and from the sacrum to the front of the pelvic basin (the pubis) form the bottom diaphragm of the free-swinging pelvic basin.

The sacrum, in the centre of the pelvic keystone and the base of the spinal column, plays the integrating role in all three systems. Suspended between the two iliums it is the sacrum's igniting fluid motion of flexion and extension that brings the two openings (mouth and anus) together. During full body orgasm the wave-like motion floods body tissue with cellular nourishment vital to health.

The sacroiliac joints (SI Joints) are not skeletally articulated, but consist of a web of ligaments that weave the three bones together. As ligaments they are strong, maintaining range of motion within the joint, have limited rotational ability and do not respond positively to torquing. Only during the birthing process as a result of specific hormones released into the blood stream, do the SI joint ligaments intentionally soften and become pliable in preparation for forming the birth canal.

Major proprioceptive neuro-receptors, responsible for coordinating alignment, balance and orientation, are imbedded within the SI joint ligaments. Sensitive and responsive to our continually changing relationship with the earth's gravitational forces, these neuro-receptors constantly register and respond to physical and emotional information. Proprioceptors are electrical in nature. When stressed they can become overloaded. Just as an electrical fuse blows when power surges, so the human electrical system short circuits when overwhelmed. What is commonly referred to as 'blowing out' the SI joints, is the result of excessive stress on the perceptive pelvic attachments. Stressed pelvic proprioceptors do not fire properly and cannot send valid information through the spine to the brain via the central nervous system. No matter what the origin, stress has the power to pull the pelvic keystone out of its integral position. Cranial receptors located in the head/neck take over for the insufficiency of pelvic receptors by backing-up the pelvic proprioceptive system. Grinding teeth is the proprioceptive method for regaining balance, coordination and positioning while maintaining the essential flow of synovial fluid throughout the central nervous system. Any tension within the pelvis will be reflected in the jaw and visa versa. Dental surgery, orthodontic apparatuses and accidents affecting the face, jaw and head will alter the coherent relationship between cranium and sacrum.

Safety and Integrity

Integrity of the physical core essentially is dependent upon the internal and inherent sense of survival. A supple dynamic iliopsoas plays a vital role in integrating physical and emotional health. Difficult, if not impossible, to compartmentalize, the psoas consistently reflects our true sense of safety. This primitive and instinctual muscle is part of the flee/fight/freeze survival response and as such responds to real (present) or imagined (learned) danger. Fear plays havoc on the pelvic keystone. A chronically constricted iliopsoas (locked in preparation for the flight/fight or freeze response) restricts movement and pulls on the pelvic bones compromising not only pelvic integrity but organ and sexual functioning. And yet when SI joint ligaments incur micro-tears, stretching or loss of proprioceptive responsiveness, it is the iliopsoas muscle that must engage in an attempt to maintain core support. Gained is a muscular protection, lost is supple integrity.

Loss of Core Integrity

When bones do not align with the earth's gravitational forces, joint integrity is compromised. Like a string of pearls, our skeletal system is aligned through an electromagnetic flow (the string) that interconnects each joint (the pearl). Yank hard enough on the pearls and the continuity and the holistic nature of the necklace is lost. A stressed joint, rather than transferring weight, begins pulling apart (sometimes heard as a popping sound).

Surviving car accidents, falls, birth, emotional/physical abuse, disease, and surgery are just some of the ways pelvic integrity is lost. Life-affirming activities such as sports, yoga and fitness regimes can also contribute to destabilizing the pelvic basin. Whereas everyday movement such as walking, warms a ligament, preventing tearing and injury, powerful stretching, disproportionate muscle tension or excessive weight and heat cause ligaments to be susceptible to stretching. A stretched ligament is a weak ligament unable to control and moderate the range of motion in the joint.

This skeletal/muscular interplay happens when:

1. Poor placement of the pelvic keystone while exercising activates the wrong muscle group thus stressing the pelvic SI joints. If the pelvis is off centre or poorly articulated, bending over to touch your toes for example, will not activate the proper muscle group (stretching the hamstrings). Instead muscle substitution will ignite the larger more powerful gluteus maximus (buttock muscles) and potentially pulling apart the sensitive SI joints. Find correct positioning by centring the pelvic keystone and moving from a supple core out to the extremities (fingers and toes);

2. Muscular armouring or over-developed muscles impose upon the pelvic keystone pulling the pelvic crest forward and down. Techniques that involve muscular anchoring, i.e. tightening muscles to attempt to gain range of motion such as contracting the upper psoas to achieve an upper body lift often associated with dancers, restrain the natural fluid movement throughout the core. Techniques that involve muscular locking, for better posture such as tucking the pelvis under, limit the pelvic basins rocking motion necessary for spinal integration and proprioceptive functioning. Pelvic integrity occurs not by muscular holding but through an energetic gathering in the core. Tapping is one technique for waking up the electrical proprioceptors in the joints. Stimulate your awareness of the energetic property of the pelvic bones by sitting and tap the sides of the iliums with you knuckles. Next pump your fingers up and down (or simply rock back and forth) on each tuberosity (sits bones) until there's a distinct sensation of sitting in front of each tuberosity (between tuberosity and pubis bone);

3. Flexor muscle dominated activities such as biking, over-develop the muscles on the front of the body pulling the pelvic basin, lumbar and knee joints out of balance. The sartorius muscle is a common example of muscular dominance affecting pelvic integrity. Attaching to the pelvic crest, crossing over the thigh and inserting into the inner knee, over-development of the sartorius will pull the pelvis crest forward and down and torque the knee joint out of alignment. Rotational movement then shears the SI joints with every turn of the bike wheel. Balance flexor activities with a full range of motion. Extension activities such as pilates, yoga, or simply lengthening over a large balance ball can offer balance and retain harmony between the expression of flexor and extensor muscles.

Maintaining Pelvic Integrity

No matter what the activity pelvis balance and a fluid core are both necessary for maintaining core integrity. A balanced pelvis maintains its integrity only when the psoas muscle is free to move like a pendulum through the core of the body and the appendages (arms and legs) are articulate separately from the torso. For the core not to be pulled and torqued with every leg and arm movement, the pelvis must function separate and distinct from the limbs as part of the torso. Although the large massive leg muscles attaching from the top of the pelvic rim to the knee foster a sense of the leg beginning at the waist (like the pants we wear) the leg is actually articulated at the pelvic hip joint. All rotational movement must occur at the four ball and socket joints. To free the leg from dominating leg muscles, integrate the pelvis into the torso by cultivating awareness within the ball and socket joints.

Liz Koch checking for pelvic stability
Liz Koch checking for pelvic stability

Re-establishing Core Integrity

Depending what caused the destabilization, there are several different approaches for re-establishing pelvic integrity. First, discover if the instability is coming from a tight iliopsoas muscle or an injured pelvis or both. Next, assess whether or not it is external muscles that are pulling the pelvis off centre. Does your pelvis tip, dip or torque? Once sure the imbalance is occurring within the pelvic joints, a health practitioner (such as a low or no force chiropractor or osteopath) can help realign your pelvis. A subtle system of blocking and vectoring is especially helpful in re-establishing pelvic integrity. Cranial-sacral work by a qualified and experienced practitioner can help unravel tension patterns and re-establish integrity within the sacrum and cranium. Gentle and non-invasive myofascia work can relieve fascia (psycho-emotional) tension. There are also physical development consultants that can create a program for re-establishing pelvic stability. Simple proprioceptive explorations such as crawling can often help re-ignite proprioception. Restorative Yoga, Hanna Somatics, Continuum Movement and energy balancing all promote awareness, a vital key to establishing and enhancing core integrity.

Torn ligaments heal faster when the tension patterns are removed. A trocanter belt is an especially useful tool for healing tears in the ligaments of the S.I. joints. A trocanter belt provides support by holding the SI joints together for the time it takes the tear to heal. One can't simply wear the belt, a skilled health practitioner must first block and align the pelvis and then monitor the progress.

For over-stretched (or hyper flexible) ligaments, prevention is the best cure. Re-establishing tone usually involves a combination of energetic, herbal/nutritional, physical and emotional re-stabilizing. However, no matter what your situation you can derive benefit while re-establishing pelvic integrity by:

• Learning to release your own psoas muscle;
• Focusing on proper pelvic positioning when sitting, driving, stretching;
• Narrowing your range of motion when practicing yoga, pilates or exercise;
• Eliminating the use of force, manipulation and invasive techniques;
• Maturing your core awareness by developing inner somatic perception.

Pelvic integrity expresses both physical and emotional stability. Like the willow tree, core integrity is grounded and centred yet fluid and supple. Autonomy within our belly core and standing on our own two feet begins within a centred pelvis.

Bibliography

Koch L. The Psoas Book. Guinea Pig Publications. ISBN 0-9657944-0-7. 1981, updated 1997.
Cohen D. An Introduction to Craniosacral Therapy. The Atlantic Books ISBN 1-55643-183-X. 1995.
Koch L. Psoas Health Trauma Recovery Protocol. Massage & Bodywork. Dec/Jan 2004 www.abmp.com
Collins V. Why Sacroiliac Instability Causes So Many Different Symptoms. (privately published article)

Comments:

  1. Dan said..

    Liz

    I am in the USA, Utah and have been suffering from an SI problem/pelvic problem for 8 years. I have seen 8 MDs, 3 PTs, 4 Chiros. Nobody seems to know how to help me. I am barely able to bend over or sit down. I am a 34 year old male who went from being extremely active to hardly moving. Do you know anybody who practices your teaching In my area?


  2. Tyna Forgie said..

    I am desperate. I am now 51 years old. My face started changing appearance as a teenager to the point where I was fairly pretty to basically very unattractive. In my effort to find solutions, I accepted a TMJ diagnosis and had maxiliofacial surgery by a reputable Oral surgeon in my community (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. It did change my appearance but as I get older I am still experiencing facial and back pain. I do believe that I have general bad posture as I never feel right (balanced) sitting or standing. My appearance is still affected. I have tried exercise for general bad posture positions but it is making my pain worse in the facial, neck, back and shoulder areas. I used to enjoy sex with my husband, once achieving orgasm through sexual intercourse and now it is painful and I am not achieving any sexual orgasms; it has been now at least 15 years. I started reading the bad posture pelvis theory with your article and it is my last resort. I am on medication for depression (bipolar) (extreme stress at work and psychotic very dark thinking) but I am now starting to think that the years of bad posture, facial, neck and back pain had a lot to do with this diagnosis or at least did not help. If u could help in providing me with pelvic exercises or some insight on my story, I would appreciate it immensely. I should also mention that I always walk outdoors not facing people as I feel my face or jaws are somehow crooked. I know it sounds very weird but it is the absolute truth. I think this aggravates my bad posture as I am trying to hide my face all the time. Thank you in advance.


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About Liz Koch

Liz Koch is an international somatic educator, and creator of Core Awareness ( focusing on awareness for developing human potential. With 30 years experience working with and specializing in the iliopsoas, she is recognized in the somatic, bodywork and fitness professions as an authority on the core muscle. Liz is a nationally and internationally published writer and the author of The Psoas Book, Unraveling Scoliosis CD, Core Awareness; Enhancing Yoga, Pilates, Exercise & Dance, and her new release Psoas & Back Pain CD. Approved by the USA National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB), as a continuing education provider, Liz Koch is a member of the International Movement Educators Assoc. (IMA).  She may be contacted via liz@coreawareness.com    www.coreawareness.com

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