Muscles produce work in the body. They come in two distinct types, smooth and striated. Smooth muscles are governed by the autonomic nervous system. Their function is automatic. Smooth muscles perform the regulatory functions. The tissues that make up organs, the GI tract, and arteries utilize smooth muscles to perform their unique functions. Conversely, striated muscles are governed by the rules of conscious motor control. Striated muscles are often referred to as skeletal muscles. Their job is to act on the skeleton for posture and movement.
Skeletal muscles have a spectrum of roles. Highlights include: work production, multiple joint stabilization, and position sense. Muscles need to be available to do their job in the movement equation. If they can’t participate appropriately, the brain will come up with a coping strategy. This is a survival-based mechanism, and this is what we call compensation. Compensation has many flavors, and despite a bad rap, it is the intelligence of the body doing its best to keep you safe.
Muscles come in many configurations. Generally, the large powerhouse muscles are more superficial, while the intrinsic stabilizers are deeper. Some muscles are specific in fibril orientation and function while others are available for multiple roles. For example, the large powerhouse muscles of the posterior chain, the latissimus dorsi and gluteus maximus, have multiple fibril orientations that look like a fan. This gives these muscles mechanical advantage over the range-of-motion spectrum.
For simplicity, let’s categorize muscles into two sets: short and long-lever. Short-lever muscles are the dependable hardworking muscles. They have mechanical advantage on the joint. The brain likes to use them as the go-to muscle during work production. Long-lever muscles cross multiple joints and have multiple attachments. Long-lever muscles are best suited for stabilization during work production. Their role is key when movement deviates and unknown variables occur in the environment.
Compensation patterns have a common trait among short and long-lever muscles: short-lever muscles are the heroes. They come to rescue when the long-lever muscles are not responding appropriately in the movement environment.
– cross one joint
– mechanical advantage
– commonly up-regulated
– cross multiple joints
– stabilizer during work production
– commonly down-regulated
Short-Lever ~ Long-Lever
popliteus ~ bíceps femoris
bíceps femoris short head ~ biceps femoris long head
iliacus ~ psoas
multifidus ~ erector spinea
subclavius ~ pectoralis major
brachialis ~ biceps brachii
These examples are samples of utilizing short-lever ~ long-lever muscle relationships to assess movement compensation patterns. The kinetic chain charts in The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains provide a map for investigating synergistic dominance, regional interdependence, and functional opposite musculoskeletal relationships. Muscles are in constant response to joint position in the movement environment. Can the muscles in conjunction with motor control instructions respond appropriately to the environment?
My upcoming Dynamic Neuromuscular Assessment™ workshops (learn more here) will provide an integrated strategy for movement assessment in a changing environment. Some of the key skill-sets we will employ:
utilizing a hybrid that combines direct assessment with indicator testing to uncover functional dysfunctional movement
utilizing feed-forward motor control to assess structure that cannot be directly tested
completing the proprioceptive feedback loop to assess both motor instructions and structural response
investigating long series kinetic chains because muscles do not work in isolation, they work in synergistic sequences during movement
investigating dynamic stability as a two-part equation: concentric action balanced by eccentric action — eccentric movement evaluation uncovers hidden layers of compensation
Please note this particular series of blogs will describe each of the four muscles and their relationship to the five principal actions described in the charts of The 5 Primary Kinetic Chain Poster Set I’ve developed. This is Part Two of four. You can find Part One on the Piriformis here.
The sacrum, or sacred bone, is unique in the body. Mystics regard the sacrum as the focal point for kundalini, the spiraling energy that rises from the root through the crown. This triangular shaped bone provides the base of support for the spinal column.
The sacrum articulates with the pelvis through the sacral iliac joint, SIJ. The kinetic energy of ground force reaction moves from the feet engaging the earth, up through the legs, into the pelvis. The energy crosses through the pelvis into the sacrum and up through the axis of the spine. The manner by which this energy moves into and through the axis of the spine defines our ability to respond to ground force reaction.
There are four important muscles that act directly on the sacrum.
These four high level muscles often are not engaged with their task of stabilizing the sacrum through a spectrum of movement. When we look at the function of these four muscles, and the various movement they are involved in, there is a trend we see in most people’s presentation that are seeking therapeutic intervention.
The anterior surface muscles are often up-regulated. These muscles are over worked and do not respond appropriately. One of the flavors of synergistic dominance is when one group of fibers becomes up-regulated, those dominant fibers then down-regulate the function of that muscle over its spectrum of movement.
The posterior surface muscles are often down-regulated and are not available to respond appropriately to movement.
The relationship of how these four muscles work together in coordination changes over the spectrum of movement. The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains have unique Principal Actions that inform the sequence of movement. This series of essays will describe each of the four muscles and their relationship to the five principal actions.
The iliacus is a large primary muscle of the pelvis that attaches to the bowl of the pelvis, the iliac fossa. This muscle has a large surface area as it fans across the inner bowl of the pelvis. The multiple direction of these fibers give them advantage over a range of functions.
As the fibers of the iliacus come off the pelvic bowl, they knit together multiple structures of the pelvis. Fibers attach to the anterior sacral ligaments, the sacrum, the psoas, and the lessor trochantor of the femur.
Looking at the web of connective tissue between the iliacus, the psoas, the anterior sacral ligaments, and the direct attachment on the body of the sacrum, it becomes clear that the iliacus has a profound effect on the sacrum.
The fibers of the iliacus are joined by the fibers of the psoas. Together they create a common tendon attachment on the lesser trochanter. This makes the iliacus and the psoas an important synergistic pair, yet they have some different roles in movement.
The psoas is a multi-segmented muscle. The psoas crosses multiple joints of the lumbar spine. Muscles that cross multiple joints have an important role as a stabilizer during the work production phase of movement. The shorter fibered muscles that cross one joint are the hard working prime mover. The important distinction here is that the psoas is acting on the lumbar spine while the iliacus is acting on the pelvis. When these two muscles are not playing well as individuals, or as a synergistic pair, the result is a destabilized lumbar-pelvis.
The iliacus is considered one of the more common up-regulated muscles. The bracing, or shortening action of an up-regulated iliacus, affects the sacroiliac joint, SIJ.
As the iliacus acts on the ilium, the relationship of a neutral SIJ becomes altered. The movement of the sacrum is self-limiting by the SIJ, while the ilium has more freedom to move around the sacrum creating a mobile/stable relationship. Hip rotation, hip hiking, and hip flare are relationships to sagittal, coronal, and transverse plane movement. The iliacus is involved in these movements even if it isn’t the driver.
Concentric Actions of The Iliacus:
Sagittal ~ hip flexion, ilium rotation, & sacral flexion
An up-regulated iliacus is the action of the exhalation phase thereby affecting the inhalation phase of the breath. This is a relationship of reciprocal inhibition.
The iliacus attaches on the bowl of the pelvis creating an extrinsic boundary. An up-regulated iliacus partners with the pelvic floor. During the inhalation phase of the breath, the pelvic floor’s action is eccentric lengthening. An up-regulated pelvic floor loses this ability.
Deep Longitudinal ~ Shock Absorption
An up-regulated iliacus interferes with the kinetic wave of shock absorption. The up-regulated iliacus is a bracing strategy for the SIJ. Compression in the SIJ functionally acts as an abutment to the kinetic wave of ground force reaction.
The body’s appropriate response to the kinetic wave of shock absorption is to counter with the push reflex. Imagine stepping off the curb. The hip must descend so that the foot can meet the ground. This is an eccentric action of the quadrates lumborum, the QL. An up-regulated iliacus down-regulates the push reflex.
Lateral ~ Axial Stability
The adductor magnus, a lateral kinetic chain subsystem muscle, needs to play well with the iliacus. The adductor magnus is a synergist with the adductor longus. The iliacus is synergist with the adductor longus.
During the transition phases of the gait, mid stance, late stance, propulsion, and shift, this synergistic pair action is eccentric lengthening. This lengthening is storing elastic energy that will be released in the swing phase of the gait.
The lateral kinetic chain is in contralateral relationship with the anterior spiral kinetic chain: stance/swing. This movement requires stability across the anterior surface of the sacrum. The iliacus and contralateral piriformis become functional synergists during the swing phase of the gait. Looking at these kinds of contralateral relationships is an important aspect in movement assessment.
Posterior Spiral ~ Generation of Stored Elastic Energy
The coiling of the thoracolumbar fascia acts on the sacrum and the SIJ. The hip is extending and externally rotating. The iliacus is actively engaged in eccentric lengthening, or is a functional opposite.
An up-regulated iliacus is going to down-regulate the coiling action of the posterior spiral kinetic chain. This is important when looking at the posterior surface muscles that act on the sacrum. Often, multifidus/sacrospinalis and gluteus maximus are down-regulated and need to get back into the equation for sacral stability.
Anterior Spiral ~ Translation of Stored Elastic energy
The iliacus is a powerful hip flexor. An up-regulated iliacus will look for recruits to assist in hip flexion during the swing phase of the gait. The common players the body looks to recruit are the psoas, tensor fasciae latea, rectus femoris, sartorius, and all the adductors.
The anterior spiral pairs with the contralateral lateral kinetic chain. At the moment when hip extension translates into hip flexion, the iliacus and the contralateral piriformis are in functional synergist relationship. This creates stability across the anterior sacrum during shock absorption.
The body starts to look for recruitments to assist an up-regulated and fatigued muscle/s. One common recruitment pattern are muscles in contralateral pairs. The pectoralis minor and the iliacus are common up-regulated muscles, they work together in the contralateral shoulder to hip relationship of the anterior spiral.
Manual Therapy Application:
One important aspect of any manual intervention is to ask the body directly if the modality is appropriate. This can be verified by doing a little bit of release. Go back to the relationship and take notice. Did the response change in a favorable way? If it did, then the release technique was appropriate. If it did not, then the nervous system needs something else to restore the coordination.
Here are a few strategies I regularly employ when working with an up-regulated iliacus.
Strain Counter Strain:
This is a one of my favorite go to techniques. It is gentle and effective. There is little risk to further irritation of an up-regulated iliacus. The lessor trochanter, the common tendon junction and the bowl of the pelvis are good entry points for this gentle technique.
This active bilateral release can have a dramatic positive effect in the SIJ. The belt puts the SIJ in compression while the bilateral activation of internal/external rotation resets the receptors. The therapist can approach the release in two ways. One is to use feedback pressure to activate the balance between internal and external rotation. The other is to use bilateral pressure on both piriformi to reset the muscle spindles.
Active Muscle Spindle:
This is a technique that resets the muscle spindles interpretation of muscle length. Support clients leg with thigh vertical, leg horizontal. Have the client hold their leg in place to accurately access the common tendon junction near the bowl of the pelvis. The placement of the practitioners fingers should be such that there is zero visceral impingement. Once appropriate contact is made, the clientslowly extends the leg and draws back to the starting position.
Pin and Stretch:
This flossing technique is a mixed bag. It can either be highly effective or over stimulates the nervous system. Ask the body if it is appropriate to the client’s presentation.
When assessing the players involved with sacral stability, ask if the identified players can cooperate with each other. Getting all the players back on the same team make for a happy sacrum.
Concentric activation ~ The muscle fibers are shortening; the muscle attachments are moving toward one another.
Eccentric activation ~ The muscle fibers are lengthening; the muscle attachments are moving away from one another.
Synergist ~ Muscles that work together during movement.
Functional Opposite ~ Muscles that work opposite to one another. One muscle is lengthening while the other is shortening.
Up-Regulated ~ An overstimulated muscle that is compensating for other muscle/s that are not participating. Often the muscle will become overworked and fatigued and unable to respond appropriately.
Down-Regulated ~ An under stimulated muscle. The function is impaired and unable to respond appropriately.
Reciprocal Inhibition ~ When a muscle/s is contracting, the opposite muscle/s must be lengthening. If the opposite muscle/s are unable to lengthen, being up-regulated for example, then that will functionally inhibit the muscle that is contracting.
The Five Primary Kinetic Chains rely on a fundamental principle: efficient movement requires the integration of a stable yet dynamic foundation so that the body can generate the power needed for locomotion.
The Anterior Spiral is a culmination of everything that we’ve discussed previously. As such, let’s review how the previous four kinetic chains have worked together to get us to this final kinetic chain.
The Intrinsic system is related to the nervous system and breath. The breath is a barometer for our movement. How our breath is integrated with our movement determines how our nervous system responds. If we move in a manner by which the movement breathes the body, the sympathetic nervous system can remain down-regulated, thus giving us access to refined motor control. If instead our breath reaches the threshold of cardiovascular distress, or we are holding our breath out of bracing or fear, our sympathetic nervous system becomes up-regulated and arms the body with a flood of chemistry.
One of the markers for stress tolerance is the capacity to return from an aroused sympathetic nervous system back to a calm parasympathetic down-regulated state of being. A large percentage of our population is stuck in an up-regulated sympathetic nervous system. This is a stress reaction that results in inflammation in the body contributing to decreased healing and regenerative ability. As a result, it is becoming popular to “train” the vagus nerve — the tenth cranial nerve — to experience arming and disarming the nervous system.
There are some very good modalities to specifically address an up-regulated sympathetic nervous system. Our personal practice is one way we can take responsibility for our stress levels. Tia Chi, Qi Gung, Shamatha Meditation, and Yoga are but a few examples. I personally find getting acupuncture to be very much a sattvic practice. I go very deep into meditation as I’m observing the energy shifts in my subtle body. For people that are attracted to manual therapy, Cranial Sacral Therapy is a wonderful way to engage the nervous system and the breathing apparatus. Nervous system health very well may start with the subtle aspects of how the cranial sutures are integrating with breath and movement.
The Deep Longitudinal Kinetic Chain is about how we interact with gravity and shock absorption. Our bodies are under a constant compressive force. The energy of the compressive force changes as movement and locomotion further generates kinetic energy. The energy of our bodies in motion must be absorbed and translated. The energy is distributed across the fascial fabric of our bodies.
This energy becomes a dynamic platform, the Lateral Kinetic Chain. The Lateral KC provides dynamic stability so that the appendicular skeleton has a foundation from which to work off. Without this foundation, the body would be at a disadvantage in generating stored elastic energy.
In developmental movement, the reflexive motor learning that is hard wired into our nervous system, we see that the movements are all about creating dynamic stability with the intention of getting us upright and using a bi-ped strategy of locomotion, the walking gait.
With an established dynamic platform, we have the capacity to store and release elastic energy. Elastic energy is stored in the tissues in two modes: lengthening or stretching and coiling or compressing. When tissues lengthen or stretch, the fascia’s elasticity stores energy. This would be like stretching a rubber band across your finger and releasing it; the rubber bands soars across the room. Likewise, winding up the rubber band on a model airplane illustrates the second mechanism of storing and releasing elastic energy. As the rubber band coils tightly, energy is stored; more coiling equates to more compression that stores energy to release.
The Posterior Spiral Kinetic Chain is the avenue the body uses to coil elastic energy into the fascial springs that perpetuate the energy of the walking gait. The body is utilizing both modalities (lengthening and coiling) for activating the fascial fabric to generate stored elastic energy. As the Posterior Spiral KC is coiled to release that energy, the ipsilateral anterior spiral is lengthening. It is a coiling of one side of the body and a lengthening on the opposite. The body is utilizing both pathways simultaneously, to generate stored elastic energy.
The Anterior Spiral completes the gait cycle. Elastic energy up to this point has been stored into the tissues, and now the body is poised to do something with that energy. The body will now translate the stored elastic energy into the complementary movement. The forward motion generated by the push of the posterior spiral is realized through the leg swing of the anterior spiral.
The ability to effectively store and release elastic energy is paramount to athletic performance. In the video, notice the quality of movement this athlete displays. The timing of arm drive and leg drive, the depth of absorbing kinetic energy, and how the explosive energy increases with each shock absorption phase. Her movement is brilliant and demonstrates healthy integrated kinetic chains at work.
The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains working together create an integrated whole. If one or more of the components are unable to engage, then we need to isolate the issue and through motor learning, reengage and integrate back into the whole. The kinetic chain charts are meant to be a map for inquiry, as we explore who is playing and who is not, the charts can help us to discern what disengaged players need to get back in the game.
Encoded in our bodies is the master blueprint, the DNA Helix. The structure of the DNA Helix represents energy efficiency. The structure looks like a coil, a spring.
Springs are efficient ways to transfer energy. That could look like the coil springs on your automobile absorbing the bumps in the road. These are called compression springs. They absorb energy and compress. The energy is then released and the spring returns to its “normal” length. Tension springs work from the opposite perspective. Your garage door has huge closed coil springs. When you open the door, the spring goes from its resting length to its expanded length. The energy to “stretch” the spring is released to assist in closing the garage door.
There are many kinds of springs. We use springs in all the machines that we encounter in our lives. Fascia is the spring in our bodies.
Fascia has several roles in our bodies. It is also called connective tissue which is the primary component of our structure. Fascia wraps and binds every part of our body creating a unified whole. Fascia is also a communication avenue for the nervous system. Messages about our environment and movement are relayed through fascia. Fascia plays a crucial role in our movement.
At a muscular level, fascia binds all the different layers into a unified muscle belly. Muscles act on the fascia, the fascia translates that energy into movement. The energy potential of fascia is relative to the ability of the tissues to move between the resting length and its coiled activated length. The coiling action is storing elastic energy and likewise, the uncoiling is the translation of elastic energy. The ability of tissues to store elastic energy is directly proportionate to the work capacity of those tissues.
The iconic model airplane with a rubber band that drives the propeller is a great example of stored elastic energy. We wind up the propeller by hand. That energy is then stored into the rubber band. When we release the propeller, the stored elastic energy is then translated into the propeller. The propeller spins the opposite direction giving the craft movement, flight.
Our bodies are not so different than the model airplane example. The fascial sheath of the thoracolumbar fascia is the primary fascial spring for locomotion. When we walk, the torso is twisting on the axis of the pelvis. This rotary action of the posterior spiral is winding up elastic energy into the thoracolumbar fascia. The stored elastic energy is then released into the complementary movement resulting in forward motion.
This is a simplified example, as the thoracolumbar fascia has the potential to store and release elastic energy in all three planes of movement. When you add two or more planes of movement together, the result is a spiral. During the gait cycle, all 5 Primary Kinetic Chains are working together synergistically, and the body’s movement can be described as complementary, contralateral spirals. This is the essence of The Spiral Engine of Locomotion™.
Let me introduce to you a key muscle that is highly noteworthy and receives a lot of well-deserved attention called the psoas. This muscle supports the musculoskeletal system through several important functions.
The psoas is a multisegment muscle, as it crosses multiple joints from the thoracic lumbar junction through each lumbar vertebrae. The psoas connects the axis of the spine to the appendicular function of the hip. In other words, the psoas attaches the trunk to the thigh.
The attachment on the thigh, the lessor trochanter, gives the psoas mechanical advantage in external rotation of the hip. The psoas is a lumbar stabilizer, a hip flexor, and is also a synergist in the breathing apparatus.
The psoas is central to movement stability.
Muscles that cross single joints, and are short by design, are hardworking dependable muscles. The nervous system can count on these muscles in recruitment and compensation patterns. However, muscles that cross multiple joints don’t have as much mechanical leverage (longer lever equates to more load on the fibers). What they are good at is providing dynamic stability while the shorter, hardworking muscles provide the power.
In the case of hip flexion, the function of the psoas is stabilization of the lumbar while its synergist, the iliacus, is the power generator.
The psoas is a multi-planer stabilizer that works in a three-dimensional context.
The psoas likes to work with its favorite partner in lumbar stabilization, the quadrates lumborum,(QL). The QL has a fascial compartment just posterior of the psoas. The compartments need to have the capacity to glide across one another so discreet function can happen in the sagittal, coronal and transverse planes. In sagittal plane movement the psoas and QL work in ipsilateral pairs on the same side. This is also true for the coronal plane. Though in the coronal plane, while one side is shortening, the opposite side is lengthening. This is called lateral flexion. The function of the psoas in the transverse plane is related to the walking gait. The transverse plane pairing is contralateral. One side of the psoas is working with the opposite side QL to stabilize the lumbar as the pelvis is moving around the axis of the spine.
The psoas is a primary compartment of the greater lumbodorsal fascia. This fascial sheath connects the torso to the pelvis so that the action of the appendicular skeleton and axial skeleton wind-up and release elastic energy throughout the cycle of the walking gait.
One really can’t talk about the psoas without mentioning its relationship to the breathing apparatus. The psoas is a key player in the spinal wave: the action that assists the cerebrospinal fluid pump. Further, the psoas shares connective tissue with the thoracic diaphragm. This is significant because when the psoas doesn’t play well with the breathing apparatus, the autonomic nervous system’s sympathetic arousal stays up-regulated. This cascade of chemistry from the sympathetic response hijacks the nervous system’s ability to cope. Said another way it results in stress. (Click here to see the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9JqFWUjxI1Q&app=desktop)