Having enough muscle strength can change everything

Hey everyone,

Every so often, I’ll get a few different people asking me the same question, in a short period of time.   Whenever that happens, and a lot of my readers seem to all be experiencing the same issue, I figure it’s time to get something up on the blog! 

In the past week I’ve had several people ask me if one specific muscle that happens to be really tight can pull the SI joints out of alignment.  

A few of you have asked this about the hip flexors (which mainly include the psoas muscle and the iliacus) and a few of you have asked about the glutes.

So here is my answer.   

Yes.  Technically speaking, one tight muscle group can work to pull your SI joints out of alignment.  However, in the long term, it makes more sense to look at the bigger picture. 

Let’s say you have chronically tight hip flexors on one side (again, there are two major muscles there, but many people refer to them as one unit). 

This diagram shows all of the muscles involved in hip flexion, including iliacus and psoas major

If those muscles are constantly tight, then yes, they are going to be more likely to pull that hip bone forward into anterior rotation.

But why?

A tight muscle isn’t usually just tight all by itself.  

It’s part of a much bigger picture– in which some muscles are tight and overworked, and other muscles which are supposed to offset that muscle are underperforming.

If your hip flexors are tight, chances are the muscles that oppose them– the glutes in the back of the hip– are weak and unengaged.  

This pattern occurs in many places throughout the body.

For example, in my last post, I talked about how the quadratus lumborum muscle, which runs right next to your spine and attaches to the top of the hip bone, can go into spasm and then cause an upslip, where it pulls your hip bone straight upwards.

Quadratus lumborum

Why?  The QL doesn’t just go into spasm alone.  It goes into spasm because the other muscles around it– namely the glutes and the core— aren’t strong enough to help it do its job, so it has to overcompensate.

This is why it’s so important to strengthen all of your muscles.

In the short term, it is important to figure out which muscles might be causing an issue, and doing things to help relax any muscle spasms which might be present.   That will help to correct your alignment, for the time being, and to reduce the pain that may be coming from any spasms or trigger points.

However, the longer term answer is to address the cause of why these patterns keep recurring, and to strengthen those muscles which can help compensate for the muscle that’s spasming.

When you’re stronger overall, your system will be less sensitive to one muscle going into spasm.  

For example, you may have seen my post from last summer, where I joked about how ecstatic I was to have been able to accidentally overdo it with my workouts.  I did too much on back-to-back days– I did an intense glute workout one day, and then attempted to go hiking on the next.

I ended up slowly, slowly walking– almost crawling– out of the forest.  My muscles hadn’t had enough time to recover from their strength training the previous day, and they were exhausted.

However, it ended up still being an amazing experience (in a way) because I was able to see that I could overwork my muscles to this degree, and have my SI joints not go out of alignment!

This little story shows you what a difference strengthening can make.

The difference between me hiking last summer, and me during the worst of my SI joint dysfunction, was the amount of muscle strength I had.

When I had first injured my SI joints and had very little muscle strength, it was very, very easy for one tight muscle or spasm to pull me out of alignment.

I couldn’t have even done that glute workout, much less have attempted to go hiking the next day.

Having a baseline of strength changes everything.

Now that I had enough strength in the glutes, as well as all of the other muscles that support the SI joints, I was able to overdo it on that one day without facing any serious repercussions.

Nothing crazy changed with my alignment.  I pretty much went home, did my stretches, and then rested, the same way I could have before developing SI joint dysfunction.  

My glutes were certainly in a spasm, but:

  • They were a lot stronger, so they were able to withstand a lot more physical activity before becoming exhausted.
  • The other muscles around them were a lot stronger, as well. The glutes going into spasm and pulling on the hip bone had much less of an effect when there were other muscles who were strong enough to act on it and stabilize it into different directions, as well.

So ultimately, healing isn’t just about the strength in one particular muscle– it’s about balancing things out and becoming stronger, overall.

I hope this helps to answer your questions! For more on some of my favorite ways to start out strengthening, be sure to check out my Strengthening page!

Happy researching!

6 thoughts on “Having enough muscle strength can change everything

  1. Amy Matulis says:

    I wonder if anyone has tried that Hip Hook? I am a long-time reader who is going in a positive direction thanks to the help of Jerry Hesch, Mike Cantrell, a pelvic PT, my local trainer – it has really “taken a village” over the past few years to understand my body’s imbalances and compensations, and to train to strengthen weak muscles or muscles that would not fire. I did order the Hip Hook and the inventor’s book earlier this Fall suspecting my psoas and iliacus might still be trying to wreak havoc on my pelvic rotation/upslip even though I am stronger and much less symptomatic. I received the book first and tried to release those areas with a ball, but that was NOTHING compared to the release when the actual Hip Hook arrived. One side was significantly tighter than the other, it was initially excruciating to put any pelvic pressure on that hook. But it did release some muscles that have probably been hitched up for years. Your last two posts about patterns and tightness made me think of this.

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    • Christy Collins says:

      Hi Amy, that’s so interesting! A few people have actually been asking me about self-release tools for the hip flexors. I know that one person in the FB group actually swears by one, which I think is the same you mentioned. Personally I was always told by my own PT’s that the psoas and iliacus are too deep to be effectively reached from the surface by someone who hasn’t been trained, and that also it can be a bit risky if you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s why I’ve never really pursued this avenue myself.

      However, it sounds like the book has given you some helpful instructions, and I’m impressed that you’ve been able to get so much relief from it! For many of us, this process is like putting together the various pieces of a puzzle– sounds like this was one of the pieces for you.

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  2. Elizabeth says:

    Strengthening has been key for me. I started doing assisted pull ups at the gym and it has really helped my core strength in the mid part of my body. My son was doing them and I thought I would give them a try. I had soneone show me how to do them safely. I have had huge problems with bending and lifting for many years because of instability and this has helped a lot . Not something to do if you have shoulder problems though.

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    • Christy Collins says:

      Hi Elizabeth, that’s really interesting– you’re actually the first person I’ve heard mention this exercise as something that helped in their SI joint rehab. Very glad you were able to figure this out! (And yes agreed about the shoulder warning). Thank you for sharing your experience!

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  3. Sam says:

    > > Hi Christy, > > Excellent post! My psoas is constantly tight and I know it pulls my SI out > adhoc. Lunge to stretch the glut upsets my SI. > > Do you know of any other good psoas stretches that are easy on the SI when > it is chronically been pulled by the psoas? > > And I have very weak glutes, what are some good gentle exercises that > strengthen the gluten but don’t upset the SI? When I tighten my glut it > again upsets my SI. > > Thanks from Sydney Australia. > > Sam > > On Mon, 23 Nov 2020, 11:07 pm My Sacroiliac Joint Saga, comment-reply@wordpress.com> wrote: > >> Christy Collins posted: ” Hey everyone, Every so often, I’ll get a few >> different people asking me the same question, in a short period of time. >> Whenever that happens, and a lot of my readers seem to all be experiencing >> the same issue, I figure it’s time to get something” >>

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