When most people think of using yoga as therapy, they automatically think stretching. But anyone who has ever been injured knows that strengthening comes first, stretching and staying mobile are secondary.
In a recent search to find answers for a client struggling with hip pain, I came across a phrase called synergistic dominance. Our muscles are designed to act and counter-act against each other to help push and pull the bones and joints in the right direction. For every joint there is a primary muscle that should dominate that bone's movements. When all muscles are equally strong and function as they should, the joint is mobile and experiences a full, healthy range of motion. When one muscle becomes weak, however, and specifically if the dominate muscle is weak, a phenomenon occurs where other, smaller muscles take over and primarily control that joint. This can lead to a weakened joint, discomfort, pain, and ultimately injury in that or other joints that are impacted. This is synergistic dominance.
In the case of my client's painful hip, we discovered through testing her strength, balance, and flexibility that her quads, psoas, and IT band were very strong, and her glutes very weak. Most of her pain came when she tried to squat. After much observing and research our theory was that when she squatted, the hamstrings and quads, acting against the hip joint, were met with no supportive contraction from the glutes. The result was what felt like the top of the femur bone (greater trochanter) slipping outward and upward in the socket and possibly pressing on a nerve or awkwardly pushing against the pelvis causing pain.
Having this as a possible diagnosis felt very exciting and as we discussed it together it felt right enough to pursue a treatment plan. (Compare that diagnosing process to what you normally experience at a doctors office!!! So much more personal!)
We are currently in the process of doing glute specific exercises to strengthen the glutes and thereby support the hip. These poses include bridge pose, side to side band walks, locust, one legged crescent lunges, and a Warrior III variation for balancing. These poses are targeting the gluteus maximus, minimus, and piriformis. Although all leg muscles are also being engaged, our focus is on waking up and contracting the glutes in every pose.
To counter the energy we are building in her glutes, we are doing front body stretches like Heroes pose and Camel pose, and are also regularly foam rolling her quads, psoas, and IT band to relieve the stress they've been under. So far the pain in my client's hip is subsiding and she is feeling happy and motivated about the strength she is gaining.
If you are experiencing pain in your joints, contact me and we will test to see if you are also suffering with synergistic dominance. Together we can come up with a plan and a solution for your own personal path to health and wellness.