Those Multifidi

The multifidi are important proprioceptive sentinels for the low back, as well as the rest of the body, for virtually every activity you do weight bearing, including gait. They are implicated in many instances of low back pain, especially folks with flexion or extension intolerance, since their fiber orientation and thus mechanical advantage (or disadvantage) is dependent upon whether or not you are maintaining a normal lumbar lordosis.

Modalities which boost their function are an excellent adjunct to the rehabilitation process. Since they are not under volitional control (go ahead, try and contract your L2/L3 multifidus), they are innervated by the vestibulospinal tract and we must use proprioceptive work to engage them. Dry Needling is one modality that can help them to become functional again.

“Significant difference was found in the percentage of change of muscle activation post needling between groups on the right side at level L4-5. A slight increase in the percentage of muscle activity, post procedure was observed in the dry needling group compared with the control group, although not significant in other segments examined. An improvement of back muscle function following dry needling procedure in healthy individuals was found. This implies that dry needling might stimulate motor nerve fibers and as such increase muscle activity.”

see also our post here.

J Back Musculoskelet Rehabil. 2015 Sep 6. [Epub ahead of print]
The immediate effect of dry needling on multifidus muscles’ function in healthy individuals. Dar G1,2, Hicks GE3.

A visual example of the consequences of a leg length discrepancy.

This patient has an anatomical (femoral) discrepancy between three and 5 mm. She has occasional lower back discomfort and also describes being very “aware” of her second and third metatarsals on the left foot during running.

You can clearly see the difference in where patterns on her flip-flops. Note how much more in varus wear on the left side compared to the right. This is most likely in compensation for an increased supination moment on that side. She is constantly trying to lengthen her left side by anteriorly rotated pelvis on that side and supinating her foot  and trying to “short” the right side by rotating the pelvis posteriorly and pronating the foot.

With the pelvic rotation present described above (which is what we found in the exam) you can see how she has intermittent low back pain. Combine this with the fact that she runs a daycare and is extremely right-handed and you can see part of the problem.

Leg length discrepancies become clinically important when they resulting in a compensation pattern that no longer works for the patient. Be on the lookout for differences and wear patterns from side to side.

Carry a backpack?

Unless you are a great compensator, like some limb amputees seem to be (see yesterdays post), be prepared for some changes in your gait. During some of our “backpack” research for yesterdays post, we turned up this full text article:

“In conclusion, college students currently carry too much weight in their backpacks. The average weight carried by UVU students caused an increase in trunk flexion regardless of age, gender or year in school. The load carried in the backpacks also slowed gait velocity, increased time spent in double support, and with the messenger bags caused a change in the right foot angle implying that the hip was rotated due to the contralateral bag placement. In an effort to avoid such potentially harmful conditions, college students should avoid using messenger bags, should always follow the manufacturer settings for proper bag positioning, and carry less weight in their backpacks.”

Carry a pack? 

Have a LLD or other gait altering condition like a lower limb amputation? Carrying a pack may not necessarily change your center of gravity. 

Yes, we were surprised as well…

“There are many scenarios where it becomes necessary to carry a load, and a back pack is often the most realistic option to carry this load. The additional load is thought to lead to changes in kinematics of the persons movement. This hypothesis, however, is not supported by results of this study. Asymmetry in movement did not significantly alter centre of pressure (COP) parameters for an amputee carrying a loaded backpack.”


Understanding how load carriage affects walking is important for people with a lower extremity amputation who may use different strategies to accommodate to the additional weight. Nine unilateral traumatic transtibial amputees (K4-level) walked over four surfaces (level-ground, uneven ground, incline, decline) with and without a 24.5 kg backpack. Center of pressure (COP) and total force were analyzed from F-Scan insole pressuresensor data. COP parameters were greater on the intact limb than on the prosthetic limb, which was likely a compensation for the loss of ankle control. Double support time (DST) was greater when walking with a backpack. Although longer DST is often considered a strategy to enhance stability and/or reduce loading forces, changes in DST were only moderately correlated with changes in peak force. High functioning transtibialamputees were able to accommodate to a standard backpack load and to maintain COP progression, even when walking over different surfaces.

Crown Copyright © 2015. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Appl Ergon. 2016 Jan;52:169-76. doi: 10.1016/j.apergo.2015.07.014. Epub 2015 Jul 31.Center of pressure and total force analyses for amputees walking with a backpack load over four surfaces. Sinitski EH, Herbert-Copley AG, et al

What types of tests do YOU use to assess lumbopelvic control? We have talked about the multifidus lift test before; here is another

“The clinical test of thoracolumbar dissociation was devised into assess a patient’s ability to perform anterior/posterior pelvic tilt in sitting while attempting to maintain a constant position of the thoracolumbar junction.

The results demonstrate that the clinical test of thoracolumbar dissociation has acceptable inter-rater reliability when used by trained physiotherapists. This test described here is the first to assess the ability to dissociate movement of the lumbopelvic region from that of the thoracolumbar region.”

From: Elgueta-Cancino et al., Manual therapy (2015) 418-424(Epub ahead of print). All rights reserved to Elsevier Ltd.

Lumbar link? Ankle, spinal pathologies coexist in cadavers | Lower Extremity Review Magazine

It makes sense…but which came 1st?

Just make sure you ask your foot patients about their back, and your back patients about their feet

The Gait Guys

Lumbar link? Ankle, spinal pathologies coexist in cadavers | Lower Extremity Review Magazine

Zero Drop? Think before you drop. More to think about before you make the jump (or run, or walk or stand…)

Ramp Delta. Drop. Heel to toe differential. Stack height differential. You have likely heard all the words before. We are talking about the difference in height between the center of the heel and ball of the big toe on the foot. It is literally “how much heel” the shoe has. Some have upwards of 20mm, some none at all (zero drop). The average seems to be 10-15 mm for many shoes, but that tradition is evolving to less and less (Brooks for example now has the “Pure” Series with a 4 mm average and one shoe that can be either 4 or zero (The Drift)). New Balance has their miniumus, Altra has their army of shoes, Saucony has a variable selection. Everyone is on target with their collection of minimalist or minimalist-trending (or as we like to call them, “gateway”) shoes.

Since we are born “sans” shoes, zero seems “natural” or maybe the best, right? Maybe, maybe not. A lot depends on you and your anatomy however logic dictates that we were born with the rear and forefoot on the same plane so there has to be a natural logic to the zero drop trend. The problem remains, how long have you been forcing this non-natural state and how long (if at all) will you be able to return to the “less is more” trend?

If you have been in shoes with more drop your whole life, your musculoskeletal system and neurology has adapted to that. If we take away our favorite chair, pair of shoes, golf club or whatever, you may have something to say about it. Same for your feet. If you drop/lower your heel, there are biomechanical changes and possible consequences.

You may have read this weeks post, talking about having enough ankle range of motion available. Dropping the heel requires more dorsiflexion (or extension) of the ankle. If that range of motion is not available, then the motion needs to occur somewhere else.

So, where elsewhere in the body is the motion going to occur ? Dropping the ankle requires more knee extension. Do you have that range of motion available? Are your knees painful when you wear a zero drop shoe?

How about your hips? Dropping the heel requires more hip extension as well. This extension is often accompanied by internal rotation of the hip (ankle dorsiflexion, along with foot abduction and forefoot eversion are all components of pronation, which will cause medial rotation of the hip. Do you have this range of motion available, or do you have femoral retro torsion, and a zero drop shoe makes that worse?

What about the effect on the low back? Dropping the heel decreases the lumbar lordosis (the natural curve forward). Don’t believe us ? Just look at any woman in a 3 inch pump and you will see some lovely curves. This places additional stress on the posterior ligaments and joint capsules and compression and shear on the discs. Some spines won’t tolerate this, just like some won’t tolerate heels, which increases the lumbar lordosis and places more stress on the posterior joints.

What about the mid back? Dropping the heel decreases the thoracic curve. How much extension (backward movement) do you have in your mid back?

The same with the neck…and the list goes on….

As you can see, it is much more complex than just changing to a shoe with less drop. Because of the biomechanical changes and demands, it will probably cost you something, be it range of motion, comfort, function. We are not saying it isn’t worth it, or that you shouldn’t do it; we are saying go slow and listen to your body. What may be right for someone else may not be right for you … . either in the short or long term.

Earn your way. Don’t throw caution to the wind. We see people everyday that have suffered the above consequences due to listening to the wonderful marketing of the minimalist trend and from embracing some of the nonsense on the web.  We call these people, “patients”.  Don’t make yourself a patient, use your head when it comes to your feet.

The Gait Guys

Ivo and Shawn

All material copyright 2013 The Gait Guys/ The Homunculus Group. All rights reserved. Please ask before lifting our material.