Tech Butt Syndrome
What is Seattle Butt Syndrome? (aka tech butt)
by Paul Van Alstine, Certified Advanced Rolfer, Studio One Owner.
Seattle is becoming the tech center extraordinaire. I'm also noticing it's becoming the posterior pelvis syndrome center of the world. Fifty percent of the men and women I see, by the nature of their work, have ended up with a posterior pelvis. The problem with this is that no matter how fit they become muscularly, and no matter how much endurance they build, they are severely weakened structurally. Seattle Butt Syndrome could indeed be called Tech Butt (when it happens to younger people). It seems to have originated with many mentally capable (but posturally challenged) younger people. We aren’t talking about people who are out of shape. Some of these victims of Tech Butt are doing CrossFit and still end up looking and feeling even worse.
What is Tech Butt?
The technical definition is called a “posterior pelvis” This occurs when the pelvis is tilted backward. This often flattens the spine and distorts the way every muscle in your body works. It looks like this:
Now, this guy is no hipster – he’s actually an old cowboy from Wyoming. Note that his belt is higher in the front than in the back. You would usually tend to see this pattern on older men and women who have had back pain, but now it’s a thing with young hipsters in Seattle who live in front of their computers – fit or unfit.
A quick self-test is to have someone take a photo of you from the side while you are standing perfectly relaxed. If the top seam of your pants tilts back, you are almost certainly posterior. (the hard part – don’t try correcting your posture!) What’s the problem? As you can see from the photo above, the posterior pelvis is part of a whole-body pattern. Every muscle and bone are out of position. Every ligament is under strain from the wrong angle. When a body is young, the ligaments are strong and flexible. The problem is more about performance, appearance, and pain. When the body is older, the more serious condition becomes about continence, increased injury, respiration, and even additional pain.
Performance, Appearance, Pain, Injury & Respiration
Performance: The posterior pelvis pattern takes the natural shock absorption out of the spine. It reduces running speed and increases the feel of impact from running and jumping. Things such as running and jumping will often feel “not right” to your body. The posterior pelvis pattern makes it difficult to flatten the low abs and have a balanced pelvic floor tone. This lowers overall power output in sports like cycling and skiing.
Appearance: When the pelvis tucks, all of the muscles in the body over or underdeveloped. People with a posterior pelvis will have poor low ab tone (poochy belly), overly strong obliques, tight hip flexors, tight hamstrings, tight painful low backs, neck pain and strain, and more rotator cuff and shoulder injuries. As you can see from the photo above, the pattern spans from the feet up to the head and shoulders. The knees tend to suffer frequently from the strain. The spine is flattened, and the head gets thrust forward. A weak chin line and strain through the face and jaw are repeatedly noticed. Finally, to make matters worse, it is challenging to move with ease and grace. Typically, people with a posterior pelvis will have a flat butt no matter what they do. They will tend to be head forward and have a weaker chin line.
Pain/Injury: When the pelvis tucks under, every bone, muscle and ligament are under unnecessary strain. The shock-absorbing aspects of the spine are lost. Depending upon the quality of your connective tissue, you will be more prone to joint problems throughout the body. As I noted above, your deep core reflexes and your ability to maintain the tone in the core are compromised, so all of your joints will endure more strain on them as well. In addition, because everything in the body is comparatively out of place and under more strain, healing can take longer.
Continence & Respiration: We are back to the deep core again. The deep core muscles are the muscles of spinal and structural support, but they are also the muscles of pelvic floor control (continence) as well as respiration. A flattened spine causes problems internally in the ligaments and tone in the organs connected to the pelvic floor. Problems with continence and prolapse can become an issue over time. The flattened spine can change the angles of the ribs and diaphragm and alters how the muscles of the diaphragm work. This can present more difficulty with breathing. Grounding and support: Ida Rolf would often address the concept that when people feel supported in their bodies, they feel supported in their life. In 20 years of experience with Rolfing, I have seen this is often the case. A "non-woo-woo" way to understand this is that with a posterior pelvis, or any strong posture compensation, your nervous system cannot trust nor feel supported by the body. From an acupuncture standpoint, the meridians cannot ground the energy from the upper body. This leaves you literally stuck in your head all the time. The feeling is akin to driving around in a car with four different-size tires. Unfortunately, if you’ve never experienced the difference, you just can’t know!
How to Fix Posterior Pelvis: Don’t Jump Off a Bridge Just Yet.
You can fix this pattern. What to do about it:
1. Deep Core Toning is Key: A posterior pelvis is a sign of a breakdown in all aspects of the “Deep Core.” These aspects are timing, tone, endurance and strength. The timing, tone, and endurance are all tested in the deep core toning classes.
The Integration Strength & Flexibility (ISF) classes tend to work only strength and endurance. We find for most adults, they consistently need to work timing and tone at least on a weekly basis, especially women who have had children (either way) and people who have had back or pelvic floor issues. Once compromised, the deep core tone becomes a maintenance issue! Jump-start the low ab reflexes. This is why all boot camps and classes at Studio One start with breathing.
Exercises to Master:
- Master imprint
- Master the hip roll
- Master breathing
- Master extension skill
- Strengthen and tone the intrinsic foot muscles
2. ISF classes: Once the deep core tone is established, the ISF classes can begin to be used to balance the muscles, strength, and flexibility through the legs, pelvis and spine. Exercises in these classes challenge you with greater range of motion and strength, and coordination. The skills in ISF classes will begin to work with your nervous system under the radar to teach your brain better pelvis positioning. The deep core tone you have built up will help to make it stick and integrate it.
One of the goals of Rolfing is to balance all of the joints toward joint neutral. In fact, Ida Rolf listed “get the pelvis to neutral” as one of the primary goals of every session! The way she taught Rolfers to achieve this was from the feet up. She knew that once the pelvis was neutral, the rest of the body would fall in line. Rolfing works from the feet up and the neck down to neutralize your pelvis.
Things That Often Don’t Work (or Even Backfire):
Hard training tends to drive compensation patterns deeper into the body. When they are young, many people believe that if they just work out hard enough, this will change things. This is similar to the belief that if you just work enough hours, you can get rich. It’s the same as getting two jobs at a fast food place rather than going to college… Often you end up worn out and behind. If you are doing really hard workouts and your butt is flat-to-none, you may want to slow down and do some VASIE and some Rolfing.
Lots of Stretching:
While flexibility can be nice and feel good, it will not fix structural issues. Just as with hard training, it can increase patterns. You can only control about 20 percent of the muscles in your body consciously. The deeper postural muscles are typically not under your control. Often, in an attempt to develop increased flexibility in the spine, people with a posterior pelvis tend to increase their pain levels and instability in the lower lumbar area. While large range-of-motion exercises may be fun and feel great at the time, if they’re not fixing that posterior pelvis you may want to run an alternative route for a while.
Other Self Tests for Posterior Pelvis Pattern
Tuck your butt under and flatten your low back out while standing. Hold this position for 30 seconds. Stick your butt out and arch your back. Hold this for 30 seconds. If you feel more comfortable with a flattened back, you may tend to be posterior.
Living Life with Seattle Butt:
Tuck your pelvis under a bit more. Keep it tucked under. Walk around for a few minutes. Check-in from head to toe and notice what feels strained, weird or difficult. This will show you the strain and movement patterns that happen all day under the radar when your pelvis is more posterior.