Hip and leg pain can make it very difficult to get around and do what needs to be done—and what you want to do. If it gets bad, hip and leg pain can debilitate you. Hip replacements and knee replacements have become common practice for those experiencing hip and leg pain, but I believe we are far too quick to cut and paste and that the result is often not the “cure all” that is promised. Cutting into the tissues of the body is incredibly invasive and creates scar tissue that causes it own problems. Also, since the body is a holistic mechanism, surgery often creates problems in other parts of the body. And, surgery does nothing to educate the body about proper alignment and movement so even if the immediate problem may seem “cured,” the misalignments causing the problem are still there ready to create more hip and leg pain which can then be a candidate for additional surgery. What a terrible cycle!
So what is to be done? Are there things we can do to aid our bodies in the healing process? Absolutely! As we discussed last week, the first step is noticing the misalignments that may be causing the hip and leg pain. The next step is to start unwinding the patterns that are contributing to the problem. A teacher can be most helpful here, but there are some basic things we can do which often help common problems. Understanding the story of the arches can help tremendously.
A word about gravity. We live under its constant presence and understanding its forces on our bodies can be very helpful. We lift weights to strengthen specific muscles, but we can do a lot of good for our bodies just by enlisting gravity as friendly resistance rather than destructive power. How we hold our bodies against the resistance of gravity is the key.
Some people call this “proper posture,” but I have found in working with people that an understanding of what “proper posture” is can be quite incorrect and even harmful. Often when I mention posture, people throw back their shoulders, pinching their scapula together and arching their lower backs. Ouch! I would like to explain proper posture by inviting you to come into a world of wonderful arches. Arches are an incredibly strong building tool used in building bridges and other structures that need to hold things up against very strong forces. Let’s look at the arches of the body and how they are—or should be—stacked in order to hold the body up against the force of gravity.
Start with the arches of the foot. These are the foundation—and a very important one. When we stand, we should be able to feel these arches holding up the bones of the foot with the outside edge of the foot and the balls of the foot lengthened nicely into the floor and the toes lengthened and spread. These arches should be equally strong and aligned as the base of the structure. Then move up the legs to the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor should also feel a gentle lift or arch centered over the arches of the foot. As we age, the bones of the pelvis tend to move towards each other, destroying the strength of this arch. Childbirth, of course, deeply challenged this arch as well. Learning to spread the bones and work with the muscles of this arch is powerful.
Stacked above the pelvic floor arch is the arch of the diaphragm where we engage the power of the breath. It is critical that the rib cage is lifted in order for this arch to properly hold up the upper part of the body. However, lifting the rib cage does not mean arching the lower back, which is how most people respond to the idea of lifting the rib cage. Instead, think of the back of the rib cage lifting along with the front, trying to even up the rib cage and place it directly over the pelvic floor. It should be very easy to breathe deeply into the bottom parts of the rib cage. The top of the rib cage is another arch ideally stacked on top of the diaphragm arch. In this area, the breath can be an amazing tool to both teach us about our misalignments and to help us correct them. I tell clients to think of the rib cage like a big balloon. When a balloon is scrunched up, it may not take air at first, but if air continues to be forced into the balloon, the air eventually begins to open up those stuck areas. So noticing becomes key here as well. Breathe in as deeply as you can and notice where the air goes in easily and where it feels “stuck.” I like to have people do this laying down so the patterns of gravity in their bodies do not take over. Lengthen the body as much as you can as you lay on your back and then breathe as deeply as possible. Does the air come all the way down your spine? If not, how far does it come? Are your lower ribs pressed into the floor by the breath? What about under the armpits, do you feel movement of the breath pressing the sides of the ribs out here? And what about the front of the ribcage? Is there movement on either side of the bone that protects your heart? The heart and lungs do a wonderful job of massaging each other if the breath is working as it should. Also, notice if there is movement and tension in your neck as you breathe. Often when the ribcage has been dropped for a long time, the breath is restricted to the neck and upper shoulders. Let the breath begin to unwind these patterns.
Finally, there is an arch in your mouth and an arch that creates the top of your head. The top of the head is nicely stacked over the roof of the mouth. Both of these arches are ideally stacked over the rib cage arch that is over the diaphragm arch which is over the pelvic floor arch which stacks nicely over the arches in our feet. Are you getting a picture of what a miraculous structure your body is to hold you up against gravity?
However, just as a bridge where the arch is falling apart begins to destroy the functionality of the bridge, arches in the body which are not functioning and stacked properly can quickly fall prey to the destructive forces of gravity. We have all seen older people who are completely bent over and think, “Oh my, I hope I am not like that when I am old.” It is pretty easy to see that if these arches start to fall, one falls on top of the other and then gravity completes the destruction. The key is to start now, before there is any more destruction, to build up and align these arches.
Now, you may wonder what the arches in the upper body have to do with hip and leg pain. Here is where we need to start thinking of the body as a whole system and not just random parts put together in random ways that we can cut and paste without concern about how it affects the whole. If the head arches fall forward, and the ribcage arches fall forward, the breath is restricted and the lower back takes an incredible strain. This is often the beginning of sciatica problems which are felt in the hip and leg. Even though the problem originates in the lower back, it is felt in the hip and leg. If the pelvic floor is not lifting as it should with the pelvic bones spread and aligned over the feet, this causes problems all the way from the hips to the feet. Going the other direction, if the arches of the feet are not lifted and aligned, this causes problems and often pain all the way up the structure. Begin to understand your arches and to notice when they are not stacked. Then see what you can do to move towards better alignment or more “proper posture.” Again, noticing is the first step in correcting and changing anything.