Scared Dog Butt ... it's a thing.
I pretty much know the answer when I see a posteriorly tilted pelvis walk into the room …
“Do you ever experience episodes of IBS or GI discomfort?”
Ummm … YES!
Okay, for a moment forget about the woes of never getting into that beautiful Swan shape (‘cause with a tucked butt it ain’t never happening … at least not without some wonky compression goin’ down somewhere along the spine), and let’s talk real-talk: Your tucked butt and your gut issues have an intimate relationship (like they’re total bff’s).
I’ve noticed this relationship (anecdotally) for a while now. I’d see a client, they’d present with a posteriorly tilted pelvis and either inform me then or later they experience gut inflammation (of one degree or another). Often as the pelvic posture shifted to a more advantageous alignment they’d remark that for some reason they were no longer experiencing gut-related issues (or at least not as routinely). Was it the posture of the bones that had this effect on the viscera? The pelvic floor? Not everyone was eating spicy food, nor gluten, nor drinking the same wine to cause that inflammation. What was goin’ on down there?
Just type in Posteriorly Tilted Pelvis into any search engine and you’ll get a slurry of input - it’s because of tight hamstrings / tight calves / abs that are too tense, or maybe not tense enough / glutes are tight / glutes are weak / you sit too much / blahblahblah. Maybe so. Maybe all of those are right in some way for some one, but what’s cause and what’s effect? Are my hamstrings too tight and so my pelvis tilted? Or has my pelvis tilted (for some reason) and because I move about with a tilted pelvis my hamstrings have adapted to that bony posture and shortened to support it? (To conserve energy - if they’re required to function short all the time in support of that tilted pelvis, then eventually they’ll just literally anatomically at a sarcomere-cell-level become short to conserve energy. Why keep length where it’s not needed. Surprise! Your body eats and regenerates itself on the daily. Gross but true.)
Stand up for a moment. While standing tuck your butt underneath you (like a scared dog … that’s what it always reminds me of). Then experiment. Try tightening your glutes / relaxing them / squeeze your abs / pooch them out / shift your ribs forward and then back. No matter where you go there’s one area that stays taunt and alert - that deep lowest abdominal pelvic floor area. Now I’m no researcher and pretty much a lot of the stuff that comes out of my mouth is speculative junk science, but I know what I feel, and that to me feels like tense stagnant tissue.
For whatever reason we like to think of our anatomy in bits and pieces - bones, muscles and other soft tissue (now we’re calling fascia it’s own thing too), nerves, blood vessels, viscera, and so on. Those are great talking terms. Those terms allow us to have a very intelligent discussion about parts and functions of our body, but they don’t always lead us to a better understanding of the whole. They compartmentalize, as if my muscles don’t affect my bones. Yeah, I know muscles move my bones, but they also (to a degree) shape my bones. The more repetitive tension in the muscle tissue, the more force is put on the bone tissue, and so the bone changes shape to better work with the tension (back to that whole gross body eating/regenerating thing). That’s logical enough, right? Okay, well what about muscle tension and viscera? If tight muscles can shift the integrity of a bone, why not the quality of my viscera? And even weirder why not vice versa in which my viscera affects my muscles? (Maybe in a future blog.)
The digestive system is super interesting (and far beyond my knowledge) starting at the mouth and ending down in the anus it’s a continual tube that runs straight through your body, and is more or less open on both ends to the outside world (like I said - we’re kinda’ gross and magical all at the same time). So, our body puts a lot of work into protecting that region. About 70%-80% of our immune system lives in the gut. It also houses our second brain, the enteric nervous system (ya’ know that whole gut feeling … it’s a real thing … Google it). Not to mention it’s in charge of processing our food into fuel. The gut is kind of a big deal.
Now, go back to the standing experiment where you tucked your butt like a scared dog and when you probably felt all weird and stagnant down in the nethers of your belly. Hmm, wonder how well your gut is able to do it’s job feeling like THAT. Again, we think of each part as separate, but if we think of our car it makes more sense. If you don’t change a car’s oil how well does the engine run? If your engine isn’t working well how great is your driving experience? If your tire alignment is off, or tire pressure uneven, how good is gas mileage? It’s all sensibly related in the car … but probably not the body, huh?!?!!
As the pelvis is posteriorly tilted we experience tension in the front of the lower abdominal (maybe abs, pelvic floor, psoas … we’ll leave the names up to the naming officials … we just know what we feel). That tension is pretty much in the same region as the intestines (a major player on Team Gut). Fascially (connective tissue wise) that lower abdominal tension spreads up into the entirety of the belly, up the front of the chest, and even into the throat (kinda’ where the rest of the gut is, more or less). As that muscle tension increases it’s just but a few (million) cells away from the gut cells so how could it not experience tension/dysfunction too!? Think about instances you know your gut has been distressed - bad food / alcohol / nervousness / virus. If the enteric nervous system is being stressed it’s being stressed … be it food or tensile dysfunction. Once that stress train has left the station it’s just picking up passengers - every other little thing has the potential to overload and set it off - the body is only so robust - so if it’s chronically distressed/dysfunctional and you eat just a little something wonky then it’s a tail spin downward (hmmm … maybe we’re all not as food intolerant as we think … maybe it’s stress + food).
But why do we get “Scared Dog Butt” anyway? Yeah, maybe it is the chronic sitting position for some. Maybe it’s a tight this or that, or underused whatevers for other people. Maybe it’s the same thing that causes our shoulders to get tense and hike up (hmmm … now that’s interesting). I’ve been calling tucked pelvis some variation of scared dog butt for a minute or two, and then I stumbled across a pelvic floor blog from Katy Bowman. In it she sites a research article that basically uses the same canine imagery (call a spade a spade). The article also sites that in a research study a group of women were “lucky enough” to have their upper trapezius and pelvic floor muscles measured by electrodes while experiencing several movie clips - some exciting / erotic / neutral / etc. The research found that when experiencing stress both the trapezius muscles and pelvic floor muscles tightened automatically as part of our fight or flight response. In our modern-day chronic stress lifestyles, muscle tension (up top and down below) is just part of the game, y’all. That internal stress experience and tension has the potential to shift our pelvis posteriorly as if to tuck our tail in fear.
What to do? Well, maybe hamstring stretches and butt burners aren’t necessarily the best primary medicine. I mean we’re already talking stress, tension, and inflammation. What about just breathing? How about relaxing? What about breathing into relaxation and observing does the breath rhythmically move through my body? Or does it get stuck? Am I breathing deeply or fully (I wrote a blog about that for Pilates Intel)? Do my thoracic diaphragm and pelvic floor diaphragm have a quality relationship? Do they dance together? How about just supporting the pelvis in a more neutral position - with towels, or props, or whatever - to allow the tissue an opportunity to let go? Do you feel chronically stressed? Could you make a lifestyle change to shift that sense of stress? What would it feel like to be able to consciously attempt to release of the grip you hold on your shoulders / pubic bone / tail bone? How would that feel? So many options to consider beyond “squeeze this more” or “stretch that.” Those more common curatives are great for working the associates (hamstrings / glutes / abs / etc), but maybe the posture of the pelvis is something deeper than strength or weakness, and maybe your IBS has less to do with what you ate and more to do with how you respond to what you feel.
by James Crader