Practical Strength Training and Stretching Tips to Help You Prevent Pain and Injury on the Slopes: Part 2

skiing bannerNow that ski season is nearly over, you may be wondering why we’re posting the second part of this blog.  Well, as PTs we figure it’s never too late to teach folks how to avoid pain and injury—and by now you may have discovered that a full day of skiing or boarding is leaving you with some aches and pains as you start your Monday morning.  So, that makes you a particularly captive audience!  Training (before you ski/board) and Recovery (during the day and before you get in your car to drive home from the mountain) are both important when you’re hitting the slopes.  Here are some tips:

Training

Before and During Ski Season:

Everyone knows that squats and lunges are the key to enduring a full day on the slopes.  But did you know that your quads and gluts aren’t the only muscles that are important to keep strong to ensure an epic day?

  1. Hamstring to Quad ratio:  Don’t neglect your hammies.  Research suggests that the hamstrings should be at least 50-80% as strong as the quads.  Skiing and boarding will naturally work your quads, so during ski season it’s important to continue to strengthen your hamstrings.
    1. Hamstring Curls on a Swiss Ball (see YouTube video)
    2. Hamstring Curls with a cable or theraband  (see YouTube video)
    3. Straight Leg Dead Lifts  (see YouTube video)
  2. Spine and Pelvis Stability:  Abdominals support spine and pelvis.  Latissimus Dorsi support spine and shoulders.  Skiing and boarding will naturally work your gluts, so during ski season it’s important to continue to strengthen your abs and lats.
    1. Swiss Ball Crunch (see YouTube video)
    2. Lat Pull Downs

Grasp tubing with arms wider than shoulder width.  Lean back slightly.  Depress shoulder blades.  Then pull elbows toward waist.

Recovery

During and Après Ski

If you can squeeze a few moments of stretching into your day (while in a lift line or when you’re taking a hot cocoa break) your body will feel much better by the time you get to the last chair.  And since most of us drive (at least a few miles) to get to the slopes, it’s also important to loosen up before you get in the car to drive home.

Kelli Crosby, PT, COMPT

Owner

Synergy Manual Physical Therapy – South Office

North Office (map)
4105 Briargate Parkway
Suite 255
Colorado Springs, CO 80920
phone 719.282.2320
fax 719.282.2330

South Office (map)
600 South 21st Street
Suite 130
Colorado Springs, CO 80904
phone 719.634.1110
fax 719.634.1112

A Hip Flexor stretch you’ll truly love

Whether you run long distance, sit in a chair all day, or find yourself somewhere in between, our challenging modern lifestyles guarantees you may find yourself with tight hip flexors or living your life with an anterior pelvic tilt.

When your hip flexors become overly tight, everything may seem out of sync.  You may feel like you walk funny, can’t run without knee pain, your lunges and squats are “off”, and your low back may ache or fatigue easily.  Sound familiar? You may have tight hip flexors.

Hip Flexor Anatomy and Biomechanics

The hip flexors are a group of muscles on the front of the body that crosses the hip.  These muscles include the iliopsoas group, and the quadriceps group (specifically the Rectus Femoris).  The hip flexors work in concert with your legs while walking or running and are responsible for flexing (bending) your hip, or drawing your thighs toward your torso. Sitting up, kicking a ball, marching, and lifting a leg to climb a ladder are all activities that involve your hip flexors.

Issues and Symptoms

You might imagine that your hip flexors get tight from overuse, while this is true, your hip flexors can actually get so tight from underuse that they stop or inhibit other muscles in your body from working.

You may have tight hip flexors if you feel discomfort in the front of the hip that feels worse when moving your leg toward your chest or if you have difficulty taking your leg behind your body and feel your low back working in order to do so.

Chronic sitting also leads to short and tight hip flexors. Tight hip flexor’s pull on the pelvis rotating it forward (anteriorly).This changes your posture by causing excessive curvature of the lower back (lumbar lordosis), a protruding belly (we all want that right?), knee dysfunction, and altered weight bearing through the spine.  Tight hip flexors can even inhibit your glutes from activating when you walk. If this happens, not only can your bottom become flat and flabby, but back pain and or discomfort generally follow.

A true stretch for those tight hip flexors

Hip flexor stretching has become very popular in the fitness and sports performance world, and rightly so.  However, this seems to be one of those stretches that either is performed incorrectly or too aggressively.

So here’s a stretch for those hip flexors that has increasingly become one of my favorites. IT is the half-kneeling hip flexor stretch. It is a true hip flexor stretch because when done correctly it truly stretches the hip flexor and doesn’t just torque your body into hip and lumbar extension.

Key Points to the Half-kneeling hip flexor stretch

  • There is a difference between a quadriceps stretch and a hip flexor stretch. When your rationale for performing the stretch is to work on stretching the hip flexor, focus on the psoas and not the rectus femoris muscle.
  • Keep it to a one joint stretch.  Many people want to jump right to performing a hip flexor stretch while flexing the knee.  This incorporates both the rectus and the psoas, but I find that there are far too many people who cannot perform this stretch appropriately. They compensate by usually stretching their anterior capsule too much or hyperextending their lumbar spine.
  • Stay tall. Resist the urge to lean into the stretch and really extend your hip.  Most people are too tight for this, trust me.  You will end up stretching out your anterior hip joint and abdominals more than the hip flexor.
  •  Incorporate a posterior pelvic tilt.  Contract your abdominals and your glutes to perform a posterior pelvic tilt.  This will give you the “true” stretch you are looking for. Most people won’t even need to lean in a little; they feel it immediately in the front of their hip.
  • If you don’t feel it, squeeze your glutes harder.  Many people have a hard time turning on their glutes while performing this stretch, but it’s key to this stretch.
  • Use your hands to guide your hips.  I will usually start this stretch with my hands on my hips so I can feel the posterior pelvic tilt.  Place your fingers in the front and your thumbs in the back and cue them to posteriorly tilt to make your thumbs move down.
  • Engage your core.  Once you can master the posterior pelvic tilt, progress to assist by cueing core engagement. Do this by placing both hands together on top of your front knee and push straight down, or hold a “massage” stick or dowel in front of you and push down “into the ground”. The key is to have your arms straight and to push down with your core, not your triceps.

So there you have it. The half-kneeling hip flexor stretch is a great stretch for those tight hip flexors and requires no equipment other than your own body. This works great for those with low back pain, hip pain, and postural or biomechanical issues related to having too much anterior pelvic tilt.  Give it a try and if you still need guidance, stop by and talk to one of the therapists atSynergy Manual Physical Therapy.

 – Albert Song Levingston, LPTA  

Synergy Manual Physical Therapy

North Office (map)
4105 Briargate Parkway
Suite 255
Colorado Springs, CO 80920
phone 719.282.2320
fax 719.282.2330

South Office (map)
600 South 21st Street
Suite 130
Colorado Springs, CO 80904
phone 719.634.1110
fax 719.634.1112

Piriformis Syndrome: A real pain in the butt!

SciaticNerve It may be there when you first wake up, after a run, or it can even haunt you as you are sitting at your desk. And whether it is called sciatica or piriformis syndrome, it can literally be a pain in the butt. Piriformis syndrome is a condition in which a small muscle (piriformis) in your posterior hip irritates the long sciatic nerve that runs down your posterior leg. The sciatic nerve commonly runs under your piriformis, but if you’re one of the lucky few (approx 17% of the population) it can also run directly through it which has thought to increased your odds of developing this condition. It can cause a variety of symptoms ranging from a simple annoyance or pain in the butt or posterior hip, to pain, numbness, or tingling down the back of your leg.

What causes it?

There can be a variety of reasons that the piriformis muscle can decide to tighten up on you. Commonly in non-athletic populations it occurs as a direct injury to the lower back or tailbone, causing the piriformis to tighten up in response to the injury as it tries to brace and protect your back from further damage. In athletes or those that workout regularly it can be from weakness in their gluteus muscles of the posterior hip, or from faulty mechanics while lifting, running, or working out. Externally rotated hips for extended periods of time can also lead to piriformis syndrome and allow for a shortening of this muscle to occur. If you tend to walk or run with your toes turned outward, this can indicate a possible source of the problem. Misalignment of the bones of the pelvis may also be involved.

To properly diagnosis piriformis syndrome is not the difficult part, but finding out the cause behind it can be. And to treat it without knowing the cause is likely to assure that this pain in your butt is not going anywhere anytime soon. This is why it is important to see your physical therapist so we can evaluate you and find the culprit as soon as possible.

What to do about it?

Fixing piriformis syndrome on your own can be challenging if you do not know the exact cause. I can tell you how to “plug the leak” for now, but if you don’t know why the piriformis muscle is squeezing the life out of the sciatic nerve, then it will come back. The most basic way to decrease the tension of a tight muscle is to stretch it. You can do this piriformisstretchby laying on your back with your feet flat on the ground, place one ankle on the opposite knee, and pull the thigh with the foot still on the floor to your chest (see picture). A deep pressure to the muscle can also help to release the tension in it. We sometimes will do this manually, almost like a deep tissue massage directly to the piriformis, or we advise our patients to sit on a tennis ball to perform a self massage. However, to do this effectively you will need some guidance on exactly where the piriformis is, or you could actually inflame it. Our clinics also use trigger point dry needling to help decrease the tension on the piriformis and other muscles that may be contributing to your symptoms. But when you come to Synergy Manual Physical Therapy we will likely find the cause and address the specific issues that are causing this in the first place. Sometimes it can be as simple as doing some simple stretching and exercises to improve glute activation which will decrease the need for the piriformis to fire during your runs or workouts.

As you read, there can be a ton of reasons for this pain in your butt and even more ways of how to correct it. This is why a little guidance from a musculoskeletal expert such as a physical therapist can help you get to the cause quickly and set you on the right track to making a full recovery without all the guess work you may be doing on your own. If you have any questions or want to know more, stop by one of our 2 physical therapy clinics in the Colorado Springs area today!

– Synergy Physical Therapy Team

North Office (map)
4105 Briargate Parkway
Suite 255
Colorado Springs, CO 80920
phone 719.282.2320
fax 719.282.2330

South Office (map)
600 South 21st Street
Suite 130
Colorado Springs, CO 80904
phone 719.634.1110
fax 719.634.1112