Today I wanted to talk to you about another concept I find really interesting, which is how the alignment of our SI joints affects the efficiency of our movements.
What is movement efficiency?
When you move efficiently, this means you’re performing various motions in a smooth, coordinated way, which allows you to achieve maximum results.
Athletes train for movement efficiency, because it means they aren’t wasting any energy as they perform a specific motion.
It’s also easiest on your body– you’re using your muscles and joints in the way they were designed to function optimally. Both muscles and joints are sensitive to the angle they’re being used at, and have a certain range of motion where they can perform best.
However, when your SI joints are out of alignment, this can affect the whole rest of your movement system as well.
As I talked about in my last post, the SI joints play a key role in shock absorption. As various forces travel up our legs when we walk or run, the SI joints absorb that force and redirect it in a way that’s easier for our body to deal with.
However, when the SI joints are out of alignment, that shock absorption system gets thrown off. Suddenly, we have forces traveling up our body at less-than-optimal angles.
It may not be something you’d notice consciously, but it does mean your body will have to work a little bit harder when you move (which is one reason why SI joint dysfunction can cause the muscles surrounding the joint to tighten up).
It’s also harder for muscles to contract when they don’t have the right alignment.
This is a fascinating topic that I could write a whole other post about, but for now I’ll just say that muscles are designed to function within a certain range of motion, relative to a joint. It’s easiest for them to perform when they’re in the middle of this possible range of motion.
However, when you ask a muscle to perform at a point within this range that’s either much shorter than usual, or much longer than usual, it becomes a lot harder for that muscle to produce any force. It takes more energy from the body to use muscles this way, and the contraction you produce will probably still not be as strong.
So where am I going with this?
My point is that, when the SI joints are out of alignment, movement becomes less efficient. That means your muscles and cardiovascular system have to work harder.
Many of you have experienced this, I’m sure. When your SI joints are out of alignment (or even if you don’t perceive them to be out of alignment but they just hurt), it can be harder to walk.
On an immediate, conscious level, we think of the pain in the SI joints themselves (in that moment, how could we think of anything else?).
However, really, when the SI joints are out of alignment, it does end up affecting the whole chain of movement (the technical term for this is the kinetic chain).
You can observe this in your own life.
Have you ever noticed that, on days when your SI joints are out of alignment, you get out of breath faster when you walk? Or that it’s just harder to move overall? Each step you take seems to make your muscles tense up more.
That’s because A) the SI joints are not doing their job as shock absorbers, and B) your muscles aren’t being allowed to operate at their ideal lengths. So it just becomes harder for you to do every little thing.
When I first noticed this:
I first noticed this on a camping trip a few years ago. My friends insisted I try to join them on a “short” hike up the side of a mountain. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to climb the whole thing, but I decided to start out with them and see how far I got. Normally I do NOT recommend people try to push through exercise when one of their SI joints is locked up, but this seemed like a special occasion.
Somehow, I kept up with them for a little while. It was a bit rocky, so everyone had to be careful of where they put their feet. This meant that none of us were technically going that fast.
But what I noticed, and then the people around me noticed as well, was how quickly I got out of breath. 15 minutes in, and no one else had barely broken a sweat.
I, on the other hand, was huffing and puffing, like I was running a race.
Honestly, I was really demoralized at first. It was like what? Here I was spending all this time working out in a pool 4-5 days a week, and look how out of shape I am compared to my friends!
Then it hit me: I wasn’t necessarily out of shape. The activity we were doing was requiring a lot more energy from my body than from anyone else’s, because my joint mechanics were off.
Imagine trying to go hiking with a weight tied to one foot, or an exercise band tied around your legs. That’s how it felt to me.
It’s not that I was super out of shape– it’s that the mechanics of my body, at that moment in time, were extremely inefficient.
My muscles had to work a lot harder to move me up that trail, which in turn required a lot more energy– including a lot more oxygen, which is why I was out of breath. To my body, it was like I was running a race.
However, not to worry because this process is reversible.
I’m sharing this story to give you some reassurance that, if you find small activities difficult to do right now, there’s an explanation for it.
However, this problem is reversible. When you can begin to stabilize your SI joints as well as strengthen the muscles surrounding them, everything can start working efficiently again.
This is why developing the right recovery program is so critical! Things can absolutely get better!!!
If you found this concept interesting, here are a few related articles you might enjoy.
On movement efficiency:
Dr. Yessis Sport Lab: Efficiency in Movement
Better Movement: Efficiency is the Essence of Coordination
And bringing it back to the SI Joints:
Thank you to Jaine on Flickr for the beautiful White Mountains pic!