Baby Got Back – An Anatomical Perspective

“Shake it! Shake it! Shake that healthy butt!

-Sir Mix-A-Lot

Sir Mix-A-Lot wasn’t given the honor of knighthood for nothing. A healthy posterior really is vitally important to our function as bipeds, and something to celebrate. In his classic ’80′s hip-hop composition Sir Mix-A-Lot makes clear his wish for a “…piece of that bubble.” – but which piece, I wonder. Piriformis? Obturator externus? There are 9 muscles that originate on the posterior hip, and a host of nerves betwixt them, each worthy of a rap style song of its own. I will give you a bit more information about this complex area which powers so much of the movement in your lower body and then leave it up to you to compose your own song of homage in whichever style you choose. I can hardly wait.

Often people, when discussing the muscles of the posterior hip, throw them all together and call them glutes. This offends the deeper hip muscles. It hurts their feelings. Gluteus maximus, medius and minimus are the most superficial of the hip muscles (not superficial like a hip hop artist singing about bottoms. Superficial in the sense of physically shallow) and they get the most attention. All three attach the iliac crest to the femur – or, as they say on the street, the hip bone to the thigh bone (they don’t say that on the street). These muscles work to bring our thigh bones into extension and to stabilize our trunk atop our legs . If Sir Mix-A-Lot wanted a girl who could stand on one leg and do an arabesque, these would be the pieces he should choose.

But he is very specific about wanting a girl who can “turn around”. Turning around requires external hip rotation and therefore the help of the profound and under appreciated deep hip muscles. They’re so deep. They were considering majoring in philosophy at one point. They are, from least to most likely to write poetry in coffee houses: piriformis, superior gemellus, obturator internus, inferior gemellus and quadratus femoris.

Here they are now; let’s all look at them for a moment. Not a cursory look, a serious look. They’re easily offended.

Because you did such a good job of looking just now, you can’t have failed to notice the large nerve running between piriformis and superior gemellus. The sciatic nerve. Oh, sciatic nerve – so powerful, so crowded. It isn’t the only nerve weaving its way from the spine through the many layers of the hip to the lower extremities, but it is hands down voted “most likely to make your leg feel like it’s being attacked by electric eels” time and again in all the major surveys.

While I have no doubt his intentions are laudable – I appreciate the sentiment behind his promise not to, “cuss or hit ‘ya” – I fear good Sir Mix-A-Lot may be contributing to the sciatic nerve’s delinquent ways. Sir Mix (which is what I call him when we’re at the polo fields) readily admits that he is here to “get the friction on” and friction is at the root of so much on the sciatic nerve’s lashing out behavior. I think what he meant by “get the friction on” was “cause tiny tears and abrasions to the deep hip muscles through chronic tension and repetitive use that heal with scar tissue forming fascial adhesions, which, in turn, rip causing more scar tissue and adhesions, and on and on”, but he went with the shortened version for artistic reasons.  It’s hard for the sciatic nerve not to get caught up in all this violence, because of the overcrowding. Eventually, when its environment becomes too fraught with negativity, it becomes inflamed and aggravated and unleashes its wrath on all it enervates.

Fortunately, massage can stop this destructive cycle. Fascial work can lengthen and loosen scar tissue so the deep muscles of the hip can move past each other with friendly nods and waves. Work in the muscle bellies can undo chronic tension making them more pliant and easy going. Once the soft tissue of the hip is healthy the sciatic nerve will have nothing to fear and no reason to act out. And this is just the surface of the bubble…of healing. Healthy, relaxed hip muscles lead to better alignment of the femur in the hip socket which means fewer back and knee problems and more functional movement overall. Which might be a good first line for a country western song.

There. That’s plenty in the way of inspiration, I should think. Please send your hip muscle ballads, rock operas and cool jazz songs to laura.ann.green@gmail.com or dial 1-718- QULZ (I couldn’t make a word. My cell phone number has a lot of 0′s and 1′s in it. Sir Mix-A-Lot was lucky to get an 800 number that spells his name…)

Baby got back!

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