Pelvis: Your body’s wobbly seesaw

“It’s all about the pelvis,” my friend and physical therapist proclaimed recently. I wholeheartedly agreed, in part because I was in the middle of a dozen exercises to fix my own pelvis and disagreeing seemed like the kind of thing that would get me five more reps of something horrendously uncomfortable.

I, as it turns out, have a crooked pelvis. The pelvis is a funny thing (and a funny word, I notice, after typing it four times in as many sentances), four bones that are the linchpin for runners. Think of your pelvis as a fulcrum — that is, the base of a seesaw. And imagine it’s a weird Y-shaped seesaw, with your torso on one end and your legs on the other. And then imagine that your legs and torso are connected to the base (your pelvis) on pivots that allow everything to rotate in every direction. Pretty much the worse seesaw ever, and an accident waiting to happen.

See where this is going? It is the job of your pelvis — and the connected muscles, tendons and ligaments — to keep your seesaw going the right direction while you’re running. Surely, we all know someone (or are culprits ourselves), of twisting our torso while we run. And there’s not enough room in this column for me to even begin to discuss all the wonky things that happen from the pelvis down. You have your frequent biomechanical offender in pronation, but that and many other knee/IT band/shin issues stem from your pelvis. 

In my own case, I have both structural and mechanical issues. First, my right leg is a tiny bit longer, by about half a centimeter. This we can live with. Second, my right hip bone is rotated both to the back and to the side. This can be fixed. Third, I have developed bad habits of not using my psoas and glutes appropriately while running. Instead, my tensor fascia latae muscle — TFL — is doing all the work. You can find your TFL by laying on your back wiith you feet against a wall at 90 degrees. When you bring your knee toward your chest in a marching motion, you may feel tension in your TFL by placing your hand across the front of your hip. But you shouldn’t — if your abdominals are pulled in and your psoas is firing, the TFL won’t have to do the work.

This marching business is likely what I was somewhat literally knee-deep in when my friend got on her pelvic soapbox — an easy one to get on when most of your clients have problems stemming from that very place.

For me, my pelvis has been manipulated back into place (and appears to be staying put), and I am working to strengthen and retrain my body to use the right muscles. When I started therapy recently, people asked what was injured. Fortunately, I was able to say nothing — this is purely preventative work at this point. I noticed some discrepencies between the two sides in Pilates … and the side that seemed off-kilter is the side on which I’ve had 1) a tibial stress fracture; 2) a pulled hamstring; and 3) continual IT band and Achilles issues. 

My friend and PT, Gwen, is not the only person on this soapbox, either. Running Times did a multi-piece article on the pelvis recently; you can find it at http://www.runnersworld.com/injury-prevention-recovery/its-all-in-the-hips. And, as always, consult a professional before trying anything crazy. Some of those self-fix options might sound foolproof, but a physical therapist or other professional can identify your exact issues and make sure you are doing the appropriate exercises — and, more importantly, doing them correctly.

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