Hip and back issues seem to plague karate people. Back pain can be particularly frustrating for karate people because it is so easy to set off. Sometimes very little activity can result in seemingly disproportionate pain. Measures, such as conditioning for the core often seem to just further aggravate the condition.
At the Fitness for the Fighting Arts Seminar in Rocky Mount Virginia, and again at the recent TKRI summer camp in Ferrum Virginia I led classes in which I presented some ideas, and exercises that may be helpful for karate people who are already struggling with back pain, and for those who would like to avoid such problems altogether.
After the class at our recent summer camp I was approached by several people who asked me to elaborate, and if I could send them some notes related to the issues I discussed. It occurred to me that I could respond to the requests for information all at once by sending people a link to an article here on the TKRIBlog, so here goes.
Karate people often focus on developing their lats so that they are better able to tie their punching arms to their bodies. Frequent punching, push ups, and bag work tend to result in tight chest muscles, and weak and tight rotator cuff muscles.
Kicking tightens the hip flexors, tfl’s, it bands, and the deep hip external rotators resulting in reduced activation in the glutes during functional movements. The glutes, together with the lats help make up one of the major muscular subsystems involved in trunk rotation (the posterior oblique subsystem). When the glutes are inhibited, the lats kick in a bit more. When the rotator cuff muscles are impaired, we naturally attempt to stabilize the shoulder joint by tightening our lats. Weak, or late reacting intrinsic core muscles often cause athletes to attempt to stabilize their cores by increasing tension in the lats. Here is a picture of the lats from the rear:
The lats attach to a large “plate” of connective tissue in the lower back. When this is under constant tension the tissue does not have sufficient time to recover between workouts. This leads to lower back pain.
Here is an illustration showing the location of the hip external rotators (often chronically tight in karate people due to kicking):
When the deep hip external rotators are tight, they can result in altered movement patterns in both the sacroiliac joint and the lower back. Tight deep hip external rotators are often involved in lower back, hip, and leg pain.
Besides helping to extend the leg at the knee, the rectus femoris is a hip flexor and is often tight in karate people. Here is an illustration showing the location of the rectus femoris.
In the illustration below the psoas and iliacus muscles (together called the iliopsoas) are visible. These muscles are major hip flexors. When the hip flexors are too tight they place significant strain on the lower back (note that the psoas attaches to the spinal column at the lower back).
Here are a few stretches that can help to relieve stress on the lower back thus allowing the tissues time to recover (keep in mind that the more kicking you are doing the more important these stretches are for you):
Leave off the sit ups, leg lifts, and crunches if you have back problems and instead work these into your fitness routine to strengthen your core, and re-establish correct muscle recruitment pattens:
Shortening the length of your front stance, and reducing the time that you are holding long, static stances will take a lot of the strain off of your lower back as well.