Why do I still teach Pilates after all these years?
The other day, I was attempting to explain, joint centration in relation to the hip joint, to a retired medical doctor who attends Pilates sessions when visiting her daughter and grandchildren in London. She took up Pilates in Sydney three years ago because of knee and hip related issues.
The topic of hip replacement came up – that it’s very common for people to have hip surgery in their 50s and 60s. A number of my yoga friends in that age bracket have undergone hip surgery. As my initial introduction to Pilates was addressing a hip issue, as a result of a water-ski accident, I have a continued interest in the topic of the hip and its relationship to the rest of the body.
Each joint has an ideal ‘fit’. The hip joint is the articulation between the thigh bone (the ball) and the pelvis (cup). The hip joint is happiest when the ball spins smoothly and freely in the cup.
- When you bring your thigh to the chest (hip flexion), the ball scoops out the cup as if a melon scooper were scooping out a melon. The scooping happens towards the back.
- When you take the thigh to the side (hip abduction), the scooping happens towards the middle.
- When you move the thigh across the body (hip adduction), the scooping happens towards the side.
- When you take the thigh to the back (hip extension), the scooping happens towards the front.
When the capacity to scoop is missing, mobility is reduced in the hip joint, and that mobility will have to be found somewhere else in the body.
When executing these scooping actions, the pelvis has to disassociate from the movement of the thigh. Dissociation is when you are able to make a movement at a particular joint, such as the hip, without compensation elsewhere i.e. Leg slides involve disassociation of the hip, keeping the pelvis/lumbar spine joints stable. It is the capacity to stabilise the midline that allows the pelvis to stay in one position while the ball scoops or drops and glides in the socket.
You may hear our teachers talk about “torque farming” i.e. an invitation to create more stability in the joint prior to the movement, which is the key to moving safely and effectively. For example, to generate force from your hips while standing, ‘screw your feet into the ground’ means that you exert an outward force with your feet while keeping them in the same position. You are not turning them outward; you are just exerting force in an outward direction, creating more turning force and more stability which results in more efficient movement.
In fact, you can probably get away with missing a little bit of flexion and extension range of motion, bit if you are missing rotation at the hips, your body will default into structurally stable but inefficient positions. The missing scoop, glide, or roll in the hip socket can result in uneven wear of the cartilage, for which surgery is usually the eventual remedy. In my experience, people who undergo surgery are missing internal rotation.
Well executed Pilates exercises are fantastic for developing the awareness, mobility and stability to help in maintaining the ideal fit of our joints. “Bullet-proofing” your body for activities you love doing, maintaining healthy joints and allowing you to move with efficiency and grace.