The Secret Life of Adductors
There are a handful of muscles in the body that are notorious for being difficult to stretch. The abdominals, the iliopsoas, and the tibialis anterior and posterior top the list. But the adductors take the cake for being both incredibly easy and hard to stretch at the same time. For a large group of the population, posing with a wide stance and bending one knee can be quite the challenge. The adductors are getting stretched, but are they really elongating? Not so much. And, in my personal opinion, having worked with them on thousands of clients and also owning some myself, I believe they are secretly proud of themselves for this title. For massage therapists and bodyworks worldwide, the challenge presented to us when a client walks (or limps) into our office with tight or torn adductors never fails to keep us guessing. How we work on them, it turns out, is very similar to the paradox of how to find inner happiness.
When we are born, our adductors are as supple as butter and as stretchy as gummy worms. Our little baby bodies are sweet smelling balls of bread dough that can mush into positions that make our adult bodies jealous. Our legs, more specifically, lend us so much movement that we can not only reach our knees to our ears but some of us even discover that we can suck on our toes. And it would be even sweeter if our flexibility stayed with us as we aged but, alas, it does not. The desire to walk comes with the necessity of stability. And so our muscles become strong so as to prevent bobbling around like Bambi on an ice covered pond.
The problem is, the muscles that require the most strength are the adductors. True, standing and walking takes a lot of coordination from a lot of muscle groups. The quads, the hamstrings, the calves, and all those core muscles get worked. Growing up and doing things proves to be a great exercise that morphs a body from squishy into awkward in just a handful of years. But if those adductors aren’t working overtime, the possibility of falling into a spontaneous split increases tremendously. Which would be a tad embarrassing. (Or maybe not if you like to play the comedian). The other previously mentioned muscles get the occasional break - like the quads rest when the hamstrings take over what the knee does. And vice versa. But the adductors? If they relax for even a minute, all hell breaks loose.
Ok maybe not ALL hell. But small amounts of hell over an extended period of time eventually translates into a lot of hell. There’s just too much that can go wrong with the hip complex. So if those adductors aren’t dialed in and in control, a little shift can equate to a downward spiral of pain. So they learn early on that being in control is a necessity. And they perfect it. Which is great. We need someone to be in control. But, as I always say, a person’s (or a muscle’s) greatest asset is also their biggest downfall.
In their secret efforts to master the art of puppeteering, the adductors simultaneously fall victim to the inability to let go. And letting go, as you might have heard, is the key to happiness. But teaching the adductors to let go
is like asking DNA to stop writing code. It’s not going to happen. The best we can do is shine a light on how being a control freak can be just a little destructive. Just a little…
Try this: With your client in the side lying position, have them slide towards you so that their back is close to the edge of the table. Preferably they are wearing exercise shorts because draping with groin work is just too cumbersome. Have them bend their top leg towards their chest and extend their leg that is on the table straight. Standing at their back situated at the hamstrings, hold the ankle that is on the table and passively flex their knee bringing their foot towards your hip. With your free hand, grasp the adductors and tell them they can let go. After decades of being in control, this won’t come easy.
With your fingers sinking into the relationship between the adductors and the quads, your thumb palpating the communication between the adductors and the hamstrings, and your palm getting a good read on the adductors themselves, continue to flex and extend your client’s knee to get a feel for each of these interactions. To up your awareness, you can have your client chime in both physically and verbally. Ask them to actively flex and extend their knee against your resistance, giving you a lot more information about how they behave with each other. And ask your client to tell you how each of these movements feels giving you a better sense of how things are going internally.
From here, you are in a great position to do all the work you have been trained to do. Compression, friction, pin and stretch - it is up to you. Just remember that the adductors aren’t very well acquainted with the happiness that comes with letting go. This will be new for them. They will need some time to adjust.
“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything - anger, anxiety, or possessions - we cannot be free.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh
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