We need to know what the main function is of the inner (adductors) and outer thigh (abductor) muscles so that we can focus on strengthening or lengthening them as necessary for our body type and the stage that we have reached after menopause. The inner thighs are only able to squeeze together because of the adductor muscles. There are three of them:
Thighs can fall away from one another because of the abductors (outer thigh), the psoas and the illiacus (hip flexors) which extend and rotate the hip. I remember this by thinking that if a child is abducted, she is taken away, just as the thighs are taken away from each other during hip abduction.
This article by the vestibular association points out that the number of nerve cells in our vestibular system decreases from the age of 55 (elsewhere I’ve read that it starts at 40)!. We need the feedback from these nerve endings in our inner ear in order to control our balance by detecting the position of our body in space and to see clearly whilst walking, dancing and running etc. Because of this deterioration in the vestibular system, we have to rely more and more on muscular strength in the legs and trunk to keep us upright. Inner and outer thigh muscles stabilise the pelvis and assist in walking. Without strength in them we would lollop like an ape and we would be far more prone to falling. 20 – 40% of adults over 65 fall at home and disastrously, between 12 and 67 percent of elderly adults who fracture a hip die within one year.
Have you ever experienced coming into Yoga thinking your were fit and fine and all of a sudden the exercises really highlighted where you are stiff and tight. This is particularly so with inner thigh restriction (these muscles attach right up high inside the groin area as you can see from the pictures above) – who notices this outside of Yoga? I noticed in my Yoga Class last week in particular that a lot of my very slim fit retirees have extremely tight inner thigh muscles. It’s very hard to get a good stretch on them from a lying position because if we take the leg out to one side (with or without the support of a Yoga Strap) the opposite hip tends to join in the party and we start a rotation in the spine instead of a adductor release because the opposite is not anchored. Larger hipped ladies can anchor their hips more easily because the weight of the leg in the hip socket is not strong enough to pull the opposite buttock up off the ground. A more effective way is to get the pelvis top open up first to allow for easing in the ground.
Our larger “child bearing” hipped ladies also tend to have laxer joints which are better for repair following injury. Our younger sisters, whose oestrogen levels are still in tact also have better muscle mass and strength, since there are oestrogen receptors present in all musculoskeletal tissues (that’s muscle, ligament and tendon as well as bone). They also have good collagen content in connective tissues which accounts for the elasticity in the muscle. This is why post menopausal women are more prone to musculoskeletal injury. However, too high an oestrogen level can decrease power and performance and make women more prone to catastrophic ligament injury (see this article).
Inner thigh muscles tighten because of activities where gripping is required, such as horse riding. It’s not usually a circumstance in which one would stop to stretch out either! Another culprit activity is cycling in which you draw the thighs inwards to control the bike and rarely open them wide. If your legs can’t fall 90 degrees or more away from each other when you have your heels up against the wall (Wall Straddle), you know the abductors are tight. Some low back pain comes from having overly tight abcuctors and can also pull your knees out of alignment – knocking them inwards, which has consequences for the ankles and causes pronation in the feet. You are also more susceptible to groin injuries. Weak glutes will also contribute to an imbalance of muscular tension as overactive adductors and hip flexors often go hand in hand with weak gluteus maxims, medius and minimus.
The situation in the pelvis is not helped by the lack of Oestrogen as we age. It’s not only muscles whose structure and function is changed by a lack of our womanly hormone but ligaments and tendons which attach these tight adductors to our bones are also affected (see this article). Generally speaking we focus on bone loss as a result of oestrogen deficiency as we age but more recently, research has shown that the muscular skeletal system is equally effected, especially because we have reduced elasticity in the connective tissues. Just a little sit in Easy Cross-legged Pose (Sukhasana) may highlight some hip tightness and groin and inner thigh restriction. If you commit to doing this on the floor whilst watching TV, for even a short time each day, it will help ease out tightness in the groin and inner thigh but it’s not going to be a quick fix and may take a lot of practice to increase your range of movement. You can also try some of the other poses we did this week at home using our class Plan – available here. Please only do this if you have already had instructions from me in class as not every teaching point is in the plan.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is an obvious therapeutic intervention to counteract some of the negative aspects of menopause but if this is not recommended for or by you, there are other measures to take. Further to your participation in Yoga and Fitness classes, it is important to address nutritional deficit by adding phytoestrogens and calcium to your diet.