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If you’ve ever taken a yoga class or done some basic stretching before an activity and struggled to touch your toes, you’re not alone. Chronic muscle tension can creep in as we age, especially if we’re inactive and do very little stretching. Even for athletes who use their bodies on a regular basis, if you don’t have a stretching regimen eventually you’ll start to lose range of motion.

Among the most common areas for these restrictions are the back muscles, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. But in order to know which area to target effectively, you need to know where your restrictions are. The Long Sitting Position muscle length test is a simple and easy way to determine this. It may help to do this in front of a mirror or have someone there to observe your position.

First, let’s start by sitting comfortably on the floor with your legs stretched out before you. The hips are flexed, the knees are extended, and the ankles are neutral. Even before we attempt to reach over and touch our toes, see if you can sit up straight at a 90-degree angle without your knees buckling. Believe it or not, this may be a challenge for some. Now reach forward and try to touch your toes. If you can only go as far as your knees, don’t worry. The important thing is to keep your knees straight in order to get an accurate assessment.

The first thing to take note of is the positioning of the hips. Are they at 90 degrees? More than 90 degrees? Less? In the first image, the angle of the hips is almost at 90 degrees but the person is able to touch their toes without their knees buckling. This shows a good amount of extensibility in the back muscles, glutes, hamstrings and calves. Some avid yoga practitioners or athletes may be able to close this angle past 90 degrees and lie completely flat, but for the vast majority of us this is what we should aim for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next image shows the hips at similar angle (close to 90 degrees), but the person has a slight buckle in the knees and cannot reach as far forward as in the first image. Here, the hamstrings & glutes are doing fine but the calves are tight, forcing the knees to buckle and the back muscles, namely the mid & upper back muscles, are restricting the forward movement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving on, we see the hips in this image are at more than 90 degrees. The person has pretty good extensibility in their mid to upper back muscles allowing them to almost touch their toes, but their hamstrings & glutes, and most likely their lower back muscles are the major areas of restriction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the final image we see the worst-case scenario. The hips are at more than 90 degrees and there’s a slight buckle in the knees allowing for a reach just above the knees. In this case, the back muscles, glutes, and calves are all restricted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The good news is that the Long Sitting Position is not only a diagnostic test but also the remedy for these chronically tight muscles. The first thing to aim for is to sit comfortably at a 90-degree angle. Forget about touching your toes for a moment. If you can sit in this position for a few minutes every day, you’ll start to notice that it’ll become less and less of a struggle. Once you’ve achieved this goal, start leaning your hips slightly forward in incremental steps. Don’t worry so much about touching the toes just yet and try not to be overly aggressive with it. The important thing is that your legs remain straight while your hips close the angle. The longer you stay in this position and move slowly into the stretch, the closer you’ll come to touching your toes.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, Certified Thai Yogi, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.

In this 5th and final post on the major muscle groups of the body, we’ll discuss muscles of the lower leg, the back of the thigh, and hip.

The lower leg can be divided into three compartments, the anterior (front), lateral (side), and posterior (back). There are a total of eleven muscles in the lower leg, all of which operate the foot. These muscles are referred to as extrinsic muscles, while the muscle located on the foot itself are referred to as intrinsic muscles. There are three in the front, three on the side, and five in the back. We’ll focus on two of theses muscles, which form the superficial layers of the calf.

Gastrocnemius: Located just below the back of the knee, the two bellies of the Gastrocnemius are what give the calf muscles their contoured shape. They descend about half way down the lower leg and are easily the most superficial and accessible muscle of the lower leg. Due to the fact that Gastrocnemius crosses both the knee and ankle joint, it can just as effectively flex the knee as it can plantarflex the foot. The lower portion of the muscle blends with another lower leg muscle known as Soleus to form the Achilles tendon. The Gastrocnemius is a powerful muscle capable of lifting your entire body weight, making it most active when running or jumping.

Gastrocnemius Soleus

Soleus: Sometimes referred to as the body’s “second heart”, the Soleus muscle plays a very prominent role in pumping blood back to heart. The upper portion of the muscle is buried beneath the superficial bellies of the Gastrocnemius, but its lower half is easily accessible and palpable. Although Soleus does not cross the knee joint, it does blend with Gastrocnemius to form the Achilles tendon. The main function of this muscle is to plantarflex the foot. Unlike the Gastrocnemius, which is known for its short bursts of power, the Soleus is a workhorse muscle, essentially working anytime you’re on your feet.

Hamstrings: The hamstrings as they’re commonly referred to, are the major muscle group found in the back of the upper leg and thigh. There are three distinct and individually named muscles, which surprisingly occupy less space at the back of the leg than one would imagine. The lateral portion of the Quadriceps and the medial Adductors fill in a big portion of the posterior thigh. Yet these three slender muscles are capable of performing several actions that affect the hip and knee in variety of ways.

Hamstrings

  1. Biceps Femoris: The most lateral of the hamstrings, Biceps Femoris has two distinct bellies. One belly originates at the sitz bones and the other shorter head, starts half way down the femur. Both heads then blend together to form a common tendon, which crosses the knee joint to attach on the fibula. This portion of the hamstrings can: flex the knee, laterally rotate the knee (when flexed), extend the hip, laterally rotate the hip, and tilt the pelvis posteriorly.
  1. Semitendinosus & Semimembranosus: The only major difference between these two muscles, which happen to form the medial hamstrings, are their insertion points. They both originate on the sitz bone and they both perform the exact same functions. Semitendinosus overlies the deeper Semimembranosus, but they both cross the knee joint. Instead of blending together to form on common tendon and one insertion point, they each maintain their tendon and attach at slightly different points on the tibia. The Semis can: flex the knee, medially rotate the knee (when flexed), extend the hip, medially rotate the hip, and tilt the pelvis posteriorly.

Moving up the leg and into the hip, we come to an area with many layers of muscle collectively referred to as the ‘glutes’. There is of course Gluteus maximus, which is the most superficial layer of the glutes and one that we’re all familiar with. Beneath this muscle however, lie two other muscles named “gluteus”: Gluteus medius and Gluteus minimus. Both these muscles are key players in moving as well as stabilizing the hip. Then we have the deep six’ lateral rotators – a grouping of six slender muscles that fan out around the head of the femur in the hip socket. As the name implies, they laterally rotate or roll the leg and hip out. One of these lateral rotators is called Piriformis.

Piriformis: If you’ve ever had sciatica or experienced sciatica-like pain, then you’ve probably heard of the Piriformis. The reason for this is that, out of the deep six lateral rotators, the Piriformis is the only one the runs directly over the sciatic nerve. The other five lie beneath it. If for some reason the Piriformis becomes strained or inflamed from overuse or trauma, that extra bit tension could compress the sciatic nerve causing an entrapment.

The Piriformis muscle originates on the sacrum and attaches to a part of the femur called the greater trochanter. As mentioned, it’s a strong lateral rotator of the hip and leg. When the leg is stationary, it can also rotate the body to the opposite side. For that reason, an activity or sport that involves quick cutting or twisting movements could potentially cause trouble for the Piriformis.

Piriformis

Iliotibial Band: Although technically not a muscle, this thick band of fascia covers the outer part of the hip and thigh and serves as central tendon for two muscles: Gluteus maximus and a muscle called Tensor Fascia Lata (TFL). The vertical fibers of the IT band originate and are an extension of both these hip muscles. This thick tendon like structure runs the length of the outer leg and inserts just below the knee on the tibia. The IT band essentially transmits the power of the Gluteus maximus and TFL to help move the hip and leg. More importantly, the IT band helps to stabilize the hip and knee when standing, walking, and running.

IT Band


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.

We have close to 320 pairs of muscles in the human body. That means we have a staggering 640 named muscles in total throughout the body! Up until the 18th century however, muscles were not given a nomenclature but assigned a number as a way of identifying them. Two anatomists by the name of William Cowper and James Douglas are credited for changing this.

Some muscles are better known within the context of a group, such as: the rotator cuff muscles, the hamstrings, and the quadriceps. But in fact, each of these muscle groups contain four individually named muscles. While it’s not important to know every named muscle in the body, there are key muscles and muscle groups that everyone should be familiar with. The first part of this article will focus on four of the key muscles depicted in the diagram. We’ll cover these superficial and easily accessible muscles first before delving into the slightly deeper layers of muscle beneath them in part two.

Back Muscles

Trapezius: One of the most superficial of the upper back muscles. The “traps” as they’re often referred to are a flat, shawl-like muscle that cover the back of the neck, tops of the shoulders, and middle of the back. When you place your hands on top of someone’s shoulders to give them your best shoulder rub, you’re predominantly grasping the upper fibers of the trapezius. The word “trapezius” is Greek for “small table,” which reflects its four-cornered shape (the right trapezius in the diagram has been removed to show the deeper layers). The muscle is segmented into upper, middle and lower fibers, each capable of performing several actions. All segments of the muscle perform retraction of the shoulders as their main function.

The upper fibers perform:

  1. extension of the head and neck
  2. lateral flexion of the head to the same side
  3. rotation of the head and neck to the opposite side
  4. elevation of the scapula
  5. upward rotation of the scapula/arms

The middle fibers perform:

  1. stabilization of the scapula

The lower fibers perform:

  1. depression of the scapula
  2. upward rotation of the scapula/arms

The upper traps play a big role in supporting the weight of the head and neck during all its movements. So poor postural habits that keep the head and neck pitched forward can greatly over-tax these muscles. The middle traps are strong stabilizers of the scapula when we have our arms out in front of us.

Deltoid: Much like the trapezius, the deltoids are also a segmented muscle which cover the outer shoulder like a cap. The name comes from the Greek letter “delta” which resembles the shape of a triangle. The deltoids have an anterior, lateral, and posterior set of fibers. It’s for this reason that they’re usually referred to in the plural form, “deltoids.” Also like the traps, each segment is capable of several actions. All fibers, especially the lateral fibers, perform abduction (moving the arm up and away from the body) as their main function.

The anterior fibers perform:

  1. flexion of the shoulder
  2. medial rotation of the shoulder (moving the arm into the “handcuff” position)
  3. horizontal adduction of the shoulder (with the arm out in front, moving the arm across the front of the body to the opposite side)

The posterior fibers perform:

  1. extension of the shoulder
  2. lateral rotation of the shoulder (with the elbow bent, moving the arm into a “stop sign” position)
  3. horizontal abduction of the shoulder (with arm out in front, moving the arm away from the body)

Triceps Brachii: As the name implies, the triceps have three individual heads: long, medial & lateral. Each of these heads originate on a different part of the arm but ultimately converge into a thick tendon at the elbow. Since they’re the only muscle found at the back of the upper arm, they’re the muscle solely responsible for straightening out the elbow (extension). The head closest to the body, the long head, is also capable of extending the arm back and moving it in close to the body (adduction).

Latissimus Dorsi: The “Lats” as they’re commonly referred to are the broadest of the back muscles. Their name translates into “broad back muscle.” In bodybuilders, well-developed Lats will give the trunk a “V” shaped appearance. Considered a superficial and easily accessible muscle, the Lats originate along the low back, then fan upwards along the sides of the trunk where they insert into the upper arm. Surprisingly, the Lats do more to move the arm than they do the back. Their main functions include:

  1. extension of the arm/shoulder
  2. adduction of the arm/shoulder
  3. medial rotation of the arm/shoulder

Another muscle worth noting along with the Lats is muscle called Teres Major. The muscle originates along the outside of the scapula and then blends in with the Lats to attach at the same point. Teres Major which translates into “big, round muscle” is often referred to as “Lat’s little helper,” as it’s a complete synergist with the Lats — that is, it performs the exact same movements. Although the Lats do perform one vital function, which Teres Major does not: forced exhalation. Due to its placement, its broad muscle fibers can compress the trunk to aide in quick respiration. The best way to remember their collective actions however is to think of them as the “handcuff muscles.” In order to get your arms behind your back as if to be arrested, both the Lats and Teres Major must contract.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.

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