Anterior Pelvic Tilt in Yoga Practice

By Niki Vetten

When the hip-bones tilt forwards, creating an arch (lordosis) in the lower back, you have anterior pelvic tilt, one of the main causes of lower back pain. Some people, mainly women, have a lower back that is naturally lordotic. This is due to the shape of their Sacroiliac joints, and is not necessarily painful or problematic.

Anterior pelvic tilt is extremely painful when it is caused by muscle imbalance, mainly weak gluteal muscles. Some other symptoms of hip muscle weakness in yoga are

  • Limited flexibility in forward bending
  • Sacroiliac pain and instability
  • Pain at the outside of the hip (Greater Trochanter of the Femur)
  • Pain in the abdominal wall at the front of the hips or the pubic bone

If the Gluteus Maximus (buttocks) is weak, the Iliopsoas and Quadriceps are tight. If the Gluteus Medius (Hip Abductor muscle) is weak the Tensor Fascia Latae is tight. All of the tight muscles are hip flexors and so the pelvis will tilt forwards. Because of the forward tilt, the lower abdominal muscles – mainly the internal obliques – become weak.

Back bending in yoga practice is not the same thing as arching the lower back with the pelvis tilted forwards and the stomach muscles hanging out. Back bending should be done with a focus on using the abdominal muscles to pull the pubic bone up.

If you always allow you pelvis to tilt forwards during yoga practice, especially in standing asanas like Utkatasana and Virabhadrasana, these muscle imbalances perpetuate themselves. This is particularly problematic in lunge–asanas, because tight hip-flexor muscles exaggerate the curve of the lower back, causing lower back pain.

Anterior pelvic tilt occurs from practising carelessly but yogis can practise as mindfully as possible and still end up with anterior pelvic tilt because of unbalanced sequencing which tightens up Quadricep muscles – a major cause of anterior pelvic tilt and Gluteus Maximus weakness.

In yoga, Quads become tight from a preference for hamstring strengthening asanas involving hip extension – Ardha Chandrasana, Dighasana, etc. Many teachers put a sequence together involving a lot of hip extension and neglect to balance it out with hip-flexion and knee-extension asanas like Utthita hasta Padangustasana (with hands on hips) or Titthibhasana. Teaching students to engage the Quads by pulling up their kneecaps at all times is insufficient to balance the legs.

Yogis who practice a lot of these kinds of asanas are surprised to find that they become unable to do forward bends. Attempting to forcibly stretch the Hamstrings which have been over-strengthened in this manner only causes pain and injury.

Quadricep muscles are stronger than Hamstrings in healthy legs and hips. Many yoga practitioners seem unaware of this basic principle and think that the more they stretch their hamstrings, the more they should strengthen them. This is the starting-point of much pain and injury in yoga

Reading Sources: De Franca, 1996, Pelvic Locomotor Dysfunction Kendall, McCreary, Provance, 1993, Muscles, Testing and Function

Author: Niki Vetten

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Visit Niki’s Website: Yoga Anatomy for the Perplexed

Here are some of the other articles posted here by Nikki Vetten:
  • Hip Pain and Injury in Yoga March 11, 2013 By Niki Vetten Hips are vital in all body movements because the body’s centre of gravity is located in the hip area, about 4 finger-widths below the navel or belly-button. Healthy hips are also the key to a pain-free lower back and knees. Flexibility in the hips is determined by strength and overstretching the hips in an ...
  • Movement Habits and their Effect on Yoga Practice March 11, 2013 By Niki Vetten There are three particular movement habits in asana practice that either cause or indicate problems with the hips: These will be covered in detail in separate posts, to keep posts shorter 1. Allowing the hip to push out to the side and not maintaining a level pelvis in the horizontal plane – lateral pelvic ...
  • Neck Pain from the Hips March 12, 2013 By Niki Vetten Posture affects our necks negatively when there is anterior or posterior pelvic tilt because the spinal curves are altered and the head is carried in a forward position. The muscle at the front of the neck, the Sternocleidomastoideus (SCM) shortens and the shoulder girdle rounds and shifts forward, exaggerating the curvature of the ...
  • Pain at the Kneecap March 9, 2013 By Niki Vetten Knee pain that occurs around the kneecap is usually called Patellofemoral pain and can be caused by tightness in the Rectus Femoris muscle or an imbalance between the Quadricep muscles that stabilise the patella. One way that this occurs is through weakness of the Gluteus Medius in the hip. The Tensor Fascia Latae ...
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