How exactly does the Muscle Energy Technique work?

Hello, everyone.  I’ve noticed that my page on the Muscle Energy Technique is one of my pages that gets the most traffic from search engines.   It seems like a topic people are really searching for answers on, so I figured I’d try to explain some more of the specifics.

I use the Muscle Energy Technique, or MET for short, to realign my SI joints.  Technically speaking, what I am doing is using muscle contractions to pull my hip bones back into place, relative to my sacrum, or the base of my spine.

250px-sacroiliac_joint-svg

When my SI joints are out of place, it means that one hip bone has rotated forward in relation to the spine, and the other has rotated backwards.  (Because the pelvis one big ring, one hip bone will always go in the opposite direction from the other).

How do you know what you’re correcting?

How to know which way your hips are rotated is not something you should expect to be able to tell right away.  For me, I had a physical therapist establish that my hips were rotated the same way over several weeks’ worth of visits.  So I learned what it felt like, and my PT told me that as long as I felt my hips were still rotated that way, it was okay for me to use the protocol she’d taught me to correct them.

So again– the purpose of my blog is to help get you started, and figure out what you should be looking for from a professional who can help teach you these things in person.  I don’t expect you to come away from this post ready to perform MET on yourself.  So, for general informational purposes, let me go on.

What are you actually doing?

In order to understand MET, you need to understand that all of the muscles in your body have something called origin and insertion points.  

Generally speaking, when a muscle contracts, that means it’s shortening.  It’s pulling one bone, as part of a joint, closer to another.

For example, when you flex your bicep, that muscle is getting shorter.  It’s lifting your forearm up closer to your upper arm, pulling them closer together.   Where the bicep starts, up by your shoulder, is the origin.  And where it attaches to the forearm is the insertion.  

Another example is when you lift your leg up in front of you to take a step.  That happens because your hip flexors are getting shorter, pulling your leg bone up towards to your hip bone.

The origin is the “anchor” or “base” of a muscle– the part that doesn’t move.

And the insertion point of a muscle is on the bone that is going to move.

So, where your hip flexors attach to your hip bone, it’s the origin.  And where they attach to your leg bone is the insertion.  

SO.  How does this relate to MET?

When you perform MET, you are actually using resistance to switch the origin and insertion point of a muscle.

Huh?

A muscle can contract both ways.  Its origin and insertion points can switch, depending on what the body needs to do.

So let’s go back to those hip flexors.  Under normal circumstances, if you contract those muscles, they will pull the leg bone (insertion) up towards the hip bone (origin).

However, if you use a form of resistance against the leg so that it can’t move, the muscle can perform the opposite function.  With the leg bone unmoving, it can actually become the origin for the hip flexors, which will then pull in the hip bone instead.  This makes the hip bone the insertion, for this muscle contraction.

So, if you want to use the hip flexors to pull the hip bone forward, towards the leg bone, you can use a gentle form of resistance, such as a foam roller or even your hands.  This is what you would do on the side where your hip bone had rotated backwards, and you wanted to bring it back into position.

Anterior_Hip_Muscles_2

This picture includes the hip flexor muscles (psoas major and iliacus).  Luckily, you don’t need to be able to name them to perform MET!

And on the side that your hip bone is rotated forward?

You can use the exact same principle to bring the other hip bone back into alignment (remember they rotate in opposite directions from each other).

So, if one of your hip bones has rotated backward in relation to the sacrum, the other one will be forward.

To bring it back, you can engage the muscles in the back of the hip– the ones that normally lift your leg up behind you and bend your knee.

Again, you can use a foam roller or your hands to stop your leg from actually moving.  So, when you contract these muscles (the hip extensors and hamstrings) they will pull on your hip bone and pull it back.

posterior_hip_muscles_3

Some of the major hip extensor muscles

What does this look like?

You are lying on your back on a comfortable surface, that isn’t too hard or too soft (both can actually push your joints back out of alignment).IMG_3638You can play around with what works for you.  (I use my stretching table, but technically speaking, you can just put exercise mats on the floor or even use your bed, if those work for you.  We’re all different, and I’m starting to believe that very few people’s joints are as hypermobile as mine).

And, as I said, you can either use your hands or a foam roller to create resistance, and make it so your legs don’t move.  (I need to get some visuals up, I know).

In a nutshell:

Hip bone that is backwards– contract hip flexors (muscles in front of the hip) and bring it forwards.

Hip bone that is forwards– contract hip extensors (muscles in back of the hip) and bring it backwards.

Okay, I hope this helps.  I know this is a super complicated concept, so please do not be discouraged.  It took me years to even find a physical therapist who taught me about it, but I hope that by writing about it, and letting you know it’s even out there, I can speed up the process for you.

Good luck!

Related posts:

Key Points of My Recovery:

Some thoughts on hypermobile joints

What happens when an SI joint gets stuck? (a more detailed explanation of the rotation of the hip bones)

 

 

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