by Jillian Carr, SPT
What is lumbopelvic rhythm?
Lumbopelvic rhythm refers to the way in which the lower section of the spine, called the lumbar spine, moves in combination with the pelvis. When bending forward from a standing position, both the trunk and hips flex to produce movement. The muscles in the lower back, called the erector spinae muscles, contract eccentrically (actively lengthen) to control the movement against gravity. At the same time that the trunk flexes, the pelvis rotates anteriorly on the femoral heads. The muscles that flex the hip contract concentrically (actively shorten) and this motion is balanced by eccentric contraction of the muscles that extend the hip.
When returning to an upright position, this lumbopelvic rhythm is reversed. The hip extensors initiate the posterior rotation of the pelvis until it is in a better position for the spinal extensors to concentrically contract without too much stress being put on them. As these muscles contract concentrically, the hip flexors contract eccentrically to help control the movement.
How does lumbopelvic rhythm contribute to low back pain?
While bending forward, the eccentric contractions of both the lumbar and hip extensors help to lower the body in a controlled motion against the flockweight of the body and against gravity. If these muscles are weak and/or fatigued, the weight of the body can be enough to overload the muscles and cause strains. During the reverse lumbopelvic rhythm, when the body is returning to an erect position, if the hip flexors are tight or the extensors too weak to fully initiate the posterior pelvic rotation, the spinal extensors can become overworked, causing injury and pain.
Importance of Lumbopelvic Rhythm to Gymnasts
Why is understanding lumbopelvic rhythm important for gymnasts?
Gymnasts require exceptional flexibility to perform skills required by their sport. However, this flexibility can create imbalances throughout the body that may predispose them to low back pain. Therefore, it is extremely important that the lumbar region and pelvis work properly together.
A very common pattern seen in gymnasts is known as “Pelvic Crossed Syndrome” in which the back extensors and hip flexors are tight and abdominal muscles and gluteal muscles are weak. These imbalances often result in a cascade of other surrounding muscle imbalances including tight hamstrings, and piriformis muscles. A physical therapist can examine the lumbopelvic rhythm of a gymnast and identify underlying muscle weaknesses or inflexibilities that may be causing imbalances and contributing to lower back pain. These can then be used to direct the athlete’s rehabilitation program.
For more information on lumbopelvic rhythm, its contribution to low back pain in gymnasts, and how physical therapy can help, contact us at 518-289-5242 (Malta) or 518-502-1154 (Queensbury).
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2.Wolf E. THE LUMBOPELVIC RHYTHM. Academy of Clinical Massage. https://www.academyofclinicalmassage.com/the-lumbopelvic-rhythm/. Published July 1, 2015. Accessed June 2017.
3.Kruse D, Lemmen B. Spine Injuries in the Sport of Gymnastics. Current Sports Medicine Reports . 2009;8(1):20-28.