Living in Pain? Hip Flexors Play a Huge Role in your Posture & Could be the Root of your Discomfort.
Michael Bruffee, Senior LMT & September’s featured therapist, dives into the root of your constant pain. There’s a good chance it has to do with your hip flexors.
What is the most common pain issue you see in clients?
The most common pain issue I see in clients is probably neck and shoulder pain, from improper sitting posture in front of a computer at work, and looking down at their phones. The runner-up is probably lower back pain often caused by tight hip flexors (among other things), also from spending too much time sitting down in chairs.
How do you work to correct this issue?
I find it useful to ask myself, “where are the causes of this problem?” Often with the neck and shoulder pain that I see that is the result of poor posture, the client’s head is pushed forward. This causes the body to engage the wrong muscles to hold up the weight of the skull. Normally, the head is held in place by a sling formed by the Sternocleidomastoid muscles and the Splenius Capitus muscle. When the head is pushed forward, the body inefficiently recruits the help of the Levator Scapula muscle. This muscle runs from the superior angle (upper inside corner) of the shoulder blade to the lateral processes of the neck vertebrae. Correct posture uses muscles anchored on the spine and the skull, which is very stable. With head forward posture, the body is using a muscle anchored on one of the most mobile bones in the body. It’s certainly not very stable. No wonder so many people experience neck pain!
Don’t know what all those anatomy terms mean? See images below 👇
I focus on giving the front of the neck some slack by working lower on the body then up towards the neck. First, I’ll release the muscles on the front of the legs and the hip flexors. I’ll then lengthen the vertical abdominal muscles before I release the muscles on the front of the neck. I find that if I don’t do all that prep work first, the gains that a client walks away with won’t be as transformative & lasting. They will have a harder time changing their postural habits.
For homework, I’ll often tell my neck-and-shoulder pain clients to stretch their quads and their abdominal muscles. This gives your hip flexors a break from their contracted position. Dynamic stretching for shoulders can also be a huge help. Pigeon pose and cobra pose in yoga are perfect for keeping the lower anterior myofascial lines long and limber. I’ll often show clients a Qi-Gong exercise to keep the muscles surrounding the shoulder blade mobile. A combination of dynamic and static stretching, within the limits of one’s mobility, is good for preventing further pain.
Do you have a favorite area to work on? What do you like about it?
My favorite area to work on is the hips. Improper orientation of one’s pelvis can create so many problems! I find that releasing the muscles around the hip joints (like hip flexors), and between the pelvis & lower back can provide tons of relief. Since the pelvis is our center of gravity, teaching someone to shift how they stand to reduce their pain, can go a seriously long way. It’s the start of them living a pain-free life. If I’m being honest, I would rather someone have so much success that I never see them again (unless they just want a great maintenance massage). I mean that with love! ☺️
Here’s a quick video on how to stretch your quadricep muscles which will help with hip flexor tightness:
What inspired you to start a career in massage therapy?
I took a long, circuitous route to massage therapy. I became familiar with taoist medicine when I started taking a T’ai Ch’i class in high school. In college I studied Anthropology, continuing my fascination with non-western forms of medicine and philosophy. I also studied the Korean martial art, Taekwondo, and began practicing a Korean-American form of Zen Buddhist meditation! All of these practices encouraged me to view health in a more holistic form. Not as an absence of disease but as a practice for life. It wasn’t until I had been living at the Cambridge Zen Center for a few years, that someone suggested to me that I consider a career in massage therapy. Once in school, I devoted myself to learning Shiatsu, a Japanese form of bodywork based in Chinese medical theory. I also studied advanced forms of western myofascial release.
Do you have a favorite massage therapy success story?
My favorite success story is from a client who came to see me with major migraines. When we did a medical intake for the first time, she had a long list of falls that had jolted her shoulders and her neck. As a result, the muscles in her neck & the back of her skull were prone to spasming pretty frequently, causing lots of debilitating headaches.
Migraines are a special fascination of mine. In both Eastern and Western medical perspectives, migraines are a result of really complex causes and conditions. Fortunately, with a program of regular, focused massage therapy much of the symptoms can be greatly reduced. After working with this client for about six months, she went from having barely any pain-free days, to having only one migraine a month! After a year, she had a migraine every two months & was starting to get back into working out and exercising. Her quality of life has vastly improved, and now when she comes in, I see a radical difference. Before, she was miserable. Now she has a smile on her face. And that’s the kind of story that makes me love this job.