This week I have decided to take a look at one of the most common problem areas we see coming through the clinic, the group of muscles affectionately known as ‘the posterior chain’. So to start with, what is the posterior chain? Quite simply it’s the chain of muscles that run down the back of your body essentially consisting of:
- Neck and upper back extensors
- The posterior shoulder stabilisers
- Spinal stabilisers and extensors
- Gluteal muscles (hip stability, extension and femoral rotation)
- Hamstring muscles (hip extension and knee flexion)
- Calf muscles (ankle plantar flexion and knee flexion)
So why is this such a common problem area?
- We sit on our Glutes (backside) and stretch out our posterior chain all day
- The muscles of the anterior chain (which include the abs and quads) tend to get more attention, either through people just training their ‘beach muscles’, or unintentionally through poor postural habits
This can lead to:
- Quad dominance: by sitting all day your glutes essentially become load bearing, which means they become inactive, losing their primary role of hip extension and stabilization.
- Tight, weak, injury prone hip flexors
- Development of rounded shoulders and poking chin, resulting in poor scapular and upper back biomechanics.
Why does this matter?
The posterior and anterior chains are intimately linked, requiring balance between the two for effective movement, especially during high-level activities like sport or dancing on a bar top.
Imbalances in either can result in a huge variety of musculoskeletal issues, here are some of the most common we see:
lower back pain
- Overactive hip flexors can inhibit Glute function meaning the hamstrings and lumbar paraspinal muscles work overtime and become the dominant movers leading to excess tension, spasm and pain.
- Anterior tilt of the pelvis commonly occurs increasing the natural lordotic curve, affecting lower limb biomechanics and increasing local muscle tension.
- Tight and overworked quads and/or tensor fasciae latae (TFL) and illiotibial band (ITB) can result in poor biomechanics around the knee, inflammating the cartilage and surrounding soft tissues.
Calf, foot and ankle pain:
- No muscle works in isolation, biomechanical dysfunction further up in the leg can create imbalances, pain and a host of inflammatory conditions right down to your foot.
- Poor biomechanics can lead to scapular and/or rotator cuff dysfunction and weakness
- Tendonitis due to reduced space for tendon movement underneath the acromio clavicular joint (ACJ)
- Poor shoulder and spine use can result in your neck muscles compensating and overworked. This leads to pain and muscle spasm often further aggravated further by day to day stress (check out our blog on stress and muscular pain).
And as always, what can you do to treat/prevent posterior chain dysfunction?
- Add in specific muscle activation exercises to your training routine to compensate for prolonged periods spent sitting
- A full body functional movement screen to identify imbalances
- Consult a physio if you already have persistently painful areas.
- As prevention consider pre-hab or re-hab training(Check out our blog on prehab & rehab training)
- Develop an effective, well planned stretching routine
- Foam rolling to improve muscle flexibility
- Pilates to improve your posture, strengthen your core, back and increase your general bodily awareness
- Regular massage to help release tight, overworked muscles
- Build regular active breaks into your day to keep moving at work
As always the take home message is DON’T JUST SUFFER IN SILENCE!! Persistant, unexplained aches and pains should not be part of your daily life and can very easily develop into more serious injuries if not effectively taken care of.
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