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Written on February 29, 2012 at 7:31 am, by Eric Cressey
Today, we have a guest blog from former Cressey Performance intern Eric Oetter, who is well on his way to a great career in physical therapy. Eric is an extremely bright up-and-comer from whom you’ll be hearing a lot in the years to come. Here’s a little sampling.
As part of the “pre-launch” phase for his new collaborative project, Elite Training Mentorship, Eric posted an outstanding video covering the lower-extremity assessment protocol he uses at Cressey Performance. For those who haven’t yet seen it, follow the link here; you won’t regret it.
In the video, Eric mentions three different factors that can contribute to mobility deficits at the hip: muscular restrictions, capsular restrictions, and bony restrictions. While the first two – muscular and capsular – can be relatively easy to decipher based on the test position of the hip, identifying bony restrictions can be tricky unless you’ve got access to a client’s radiological imaging. For this reason, it’s important to appreciate any structural variations in the skeletal system that can underlie joint malalignment at the hip.
The focus of this piece is a structural variation called hip anteversion. We’ll be covering the joint morphology associated with anteversion, along with a quick orthopedic test and some implications for programming.
What is hip anteversion?
Excerpted from the 2002 text Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes, Shirley Sahrmann describes hip anteversion as the following:
“ … the angle of the head and neck of the femur is rotated anteriorly, beyond that of the normal torsion with respect to the shaft. The result is a range of medial hip rotation that appears to be excessive, whereas the lateral rotation range appears to be limited.”
Essentially, clients who present with this structural abnormality were born with, or have acquired, a more internally oriented neutral position for their femurs as they sit in the acetabulum (or hip socket). To be classified as anteverted, the femoral head and neck must be rotated more than 15° anteriorly with respect to the plane of the femoral condyles (Sahrmann 2002). (Conversely, a posterior rotation of the femoral head and neck would constitute a retroverted hip.)
When observed standing, clients with hip anteversion will often present with femoral adduction and genu valgum – the classic “knock-kneed” posture. As kids, these clients likely eschewed “indian-style” for W-sitting – a position much more congruent with their natural femoral alignment.
While some might also classify “pigeon-toes” as an indicator for anteverted hips, this is not always the case. In the presence of anteversion, some clients – especially athletes – will develop a tibial torsion as a result of the applied stresses to the lower extremities. This adaptation allows for a neutrally aligned sub-talar joint in the face of morphological changes up the kinetic chain.
The largest implication of hip anteversion or retroversion is a significant discrepancy between hip internal and external rotation. As described in the Sahrmann quotation above, hip anteversion creates an apparently large amount of internal rotation (IR) with a reciprocal loss of external rotation (ER).
I liken these morphological changes to those seen in the retroverted shoulder of an overhead throwing athlete. The total hip range of motion (IR + ER) can present at around 90°, or “normal”, but these measures are drastically skewed in one direction of rotation.
Whereas a retroverted shoulder presents a favorable adaptation in baseball, the same cannot always be said for the athlete with anteverted hips.
If undiagnosed or mismanaged, hip anteversion can create pathology. Expect issues like knee pain, back pain, and hip instability (Sahrmann 2002). For this reason, it’s imperative to recognize anteversion when it presents and apply the programming modifications necessary to accommodate this structural abnormality.
So how can I test for it?
Although checking IR and ER in both supine and prone can highlight limitations in the capsule or surrounding hip musculature, you’ll need an extra orthopedic test at your disposal to clear the skeletal system. For this purpose, we’ll use the Craigs’s test.
Assuming you’re following the assessment outlined in Eric’s video, the best time to perform a Craig’s test is immediately after you’ve assessed a client’s hip rotation in prone, especially if you detect a glaring asymmetry between IR and ER.
Note the client in the photos below – here, we see an excessive amount of IR (~50°) met with limited ER (only ~20°). With a rotational deficit of ≥30°, this client may have some torsional issue at play; thus, a Craig’s test indicated.
With the client remaining in prone the knee held in flexion, the Craig’s test is performed by first palpating the same side greater trochanter, a landmark on the femur that protrudes laterally about 5 inches below the iliac crest. Make sure to apply flat-hand contact with the pads of the fingers – this posture allows for greater sensory feedback and precision. Once this position is assumed, begin internally and externally rotating the femur through its full range of motion.
As you rotate the leg, you’ll notice the greater trochanter tracking against your fingertips, becoming more or less prominent depending on the direction of rotation. Start shortening your oscillations until you determine the position at which the trochanter is most prominent laterally and pause once you locate it. At this range of rotation, the femoral head is optimally situated within the acetabulum.
We get a positive Craig’s test when the hip rotation at the point of ideal femoral alignment is ≥15° into IR. Also, we can now classify the hip as anteverted, providing useful insight for the dexterous coach.
Check out the video below to see a Craig’s test performed on our client from above.
One thing worth noting – a 1992 study by Ruwe et al. showed the Craig’s test to be more reliable than radiological techniques in the assessment of femoral torsion. So, even if you have client X-rays available, a Craig’s test is still worth administering.
If the Craig’s test is positive, how should I alter programming?
Now that we’ve performed a Craig’s test and determined whether or not any torsional qualities exist, it’s time to write an effective program that respects our findings. Here are a few do’s and don’ts to consider when programming:
• DON’T stretch the hip into external rotation – this only creates impingement. We wouldn’t force the retroverted shoulder of a pitcher into an end-range sleeper stretch, so we need to take the same approach with an anteverted hip. Even though the hip is a much more durable joint, there’s no reason to drive motion that a client simply doesn’t have, as this only serves to jam the femoral head against the acetabulum.
• DO increase the amount of core work in clients with femoral torsion. When someone is stuck in internal rotation at the hip, the kinematics of the lower-extremities become predisposed towards a pronation pattern (sub-talar pronation, tibial/femoral IR, and anterior pelvic tilt).
The hip external rotators often become excessively stiff and overused, as they are constantly checking motion into adduction, internal rotation, and flexion. While increasing external rotator strength will improve the first two, we can employ the posterior fibers of external oblique and rectus abdominis to aid in flexion control, creating a more stable pelvis. By doing so, we’re also increasing stiffness at the lumbar spine, fighting any compensatory motion created by the hip external rotation deficit.
As far as exercise selection goes, focus on half-kneeling chops/lifts and anti-extension – both integrate the hips and core simultaneously to check hip flexion ROM. I especially like rollout variations for clients with hip anteversion, which are highlighted in Eric’s video below.
• DON’T introduce quad-dominant lifts until the client shows dramatic improvements in hip stability. The pronation pattern I described above is essentially a cookbook for ACL and MCL injuries. In a population that is likely anteriorly tilted at the pelvis and anterior weight bearing, the last thing we want to do is make them even more reliant on their quads. An adroit posterior chain should precede any anterior chain-focused movement.
• DO hammer the posterior chain as if your life depended on it. While this statement could serve as a mantra for most general population programming, it is even more important when dealing with anteversion of the hip. These clients sometimes present with femoral control so poor, our first goal is to simply get them to baseline.
Mastering stability in the sagittal plane takes precedence. Start bilateral with deadlift and box squat variations and increase stability demands as the client advances. Great second tier progressions include single-leg RDLs, single-leg hip thrusts, and bowler squats, all of which introduce frontal and transverse plane stability.
Lastly, exercises that force the femur into an abducted and externally rotated state are contraindicated – sumo deadlifts provide a great example. Even though pulling sumo is a fantastic variation for hip strength, it can create malalignment in the acetabulum if the hip is anteverted. In this case, it’s safer to stick with either trap bar deadlift or conventional deadlift variations.
Hip anteversion isn’t something you’ll likely see in every client. Johns Hopkins Medical School reports the prevalence to be ~8-10%, but that number varies based upon cultural norms and neurodevelopmental patterns, which can alter skeletal growth.
Regardless, it is an important structural variation to recognize and program for, especially in an athletic population. Taken as supplement to Eric’s lower-extremity video, I hope this article provides you another piece towards building a better assessment.
About the Author
Eric is currently a senior at the University of Georgia majoring in Exercise and Sport Science, with plans to pursue a Doctorate of Physical Therapy. After concluding a Division-1 football career at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Eric has ardently pursued his passion for coaching, garnering experience with clients of all ages and ability levels through internships at both Indianapolis Fitness & Sports Training and Cressey Performance. His articles can be found on EricCressey.com, 8weeksout.com, and in Fighting Fit magazine. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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