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Dr. Cathy A. Kim, MD, APC

Thigh Muscles: The Case for Foam Rolling | Ep. 4

Thigh Muscles The Case for Foam Rolling | Ep. 4

Thigh Muscles: The Case for Foam Rolling | Ep. 4

With less diversity of movement such as squatting or climbing, our modern lifestyle is resulting in loss of flexibility of our muscles and fascia, especially in our legs.  These front leg muscles attach to the pelvis, and directly influence the tilt of the pelvis day to day.  At a deeper layer, our hip flexors, shorten and maintain the tilt created by the superficial muscles.

As a Body Function Specialist and Functional Medicine doctor, I utilize myofascial release therapy in strategic areas and focus on changing the habitual movements that stiffen the thigh muscles.  By addressing these root causes of dysfunctional biomechanics and misalignment, I help patients with diverse pain complaints, including facial pain (trigeminal neuralgia), vertigo, dysmenorrhea, pelvic pain, and rectal pain.  

View the video or read the transcript to understand my view of how stiff thighs develop and affect the functional mobility of the pelvis.


Hi I’m Dr. Cathy Kim, founder of Integrative Body Medicine and member of the Institute for Functional Medicine and Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine. This video explains how your thigh muscles get in the way of correcting your rotated pelvis.  

It turns out that to access that deep hip flexor, we have to improve the flexibility of the quadriceps and surrounding thigh muscles first. The pelvis has stayed tipped forward for all this time, and many of the muscles of the thigh attach to the pelvis. When you use your Mula Bandha, you are strengthening your true core, but are limited in how much you can lift the pelvis because several thigh muscles are pulling it downward.

Let’s compare the length of the thigh muscles in a leg with a neutral pelvis, and a leg with an anteriorly rotated pelvis. The distance between the knee and the rim of the pelvis is actually shorter in the anteriorly rotated pelvis. If we were to stretch string between the knee and the pelvis to represent the muscles, we would see a lot of sag or slack in the string of the anteriorly rotated pelvis. But have you ever seen anyone with saggy thigh muscles? Why is the muscle group actually shorter in length for the anteriorly rotated pelvis? To answer this, we need to look at one muscle fiber and how it works. 

When your body has to make a joint move, it must contract a muscle. It is shortening the muscle. Each muscle fiber is a self-contained unit, like the strap on a snapback hat. When the fiber is completely straight and elongated, there’s minimal overlap of the two straps. As the muscle fiber needs to contract, the straps overlap more and more until the muscle fiber is very short and the buttons can lock in that position — that is why your muscle looks compact and bulky when it’s contracted. 

What if the muscle fiber never gets to elongate all the way? Then there would be always some overlap in the straps and, over time they get a little scarred or stuck. So you can’t get the fiber to elongate no matter how hard you pull on the edges. That is why there’s a limit to how much you can accomplish with relying on only stretching regimens, because you’re only pulling on the ends of the muscle fibers. This is where manual therapies, such as foam rolling, myofascial massage or even other do-it-yourself tools come in. 

Fascia is the membrane that encases our muscles. You’ve seen it on pieces of raw chicken or flanks of beef — and it can adhere to the muscle, so that it also restricts our flexibility. Injury, inflammation from toxins in our diet, or inactive lifestyle are some of the factors that contribute to these scarred areas in the fascia or the muscle fibers. This is one of the reasons why we feel stiffer as we age. The muscles are shorter and stiffer; it’s like we’re trapped inside a rusting suit of armor. 

When we foam roll our thighs, or perform some other functional body work on them, we are helping to break up these scarred areas and restoring more full-length movement of the muscle fibers, and helping the fascia move more easily over the muscle. Since we are retraining our muscles to work together differently, I recommend a foam roll at the start of the day or before exercising or yoga class — and then the body can immediately adjust to the slight change in mechanics. Gradually, with daily attention, your body can evolve into better alignment.

Special note for your knee lockers out there:  when you bring your knees into neutral position, most of you will find that you look like you are “knock-kneed” — your knees are closer in. If it is very severe, you will look knock-kneed even when you stand normally. This has to do with the extreme tension that you have along your outside IT band, along the outside of your thigh and the tension along your inner thigh muscles. Foam rolling and myofascial work is especially important for you, in order to prevent problems with your knee and hip joints. 

If the need for foam rolling, or other body work to get to neutral pelvis makes sense to you. Please watch my demonstration of functional foam rolling in the next video. You can also visit my website integrativebodymedicine.com (drcathykim.com) to learn more about my approach to whole body health.

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Dr. Cathy Kim

Dr. Cathy Kim is a Board-Certified Family Medicine physician and Body Function Specialist. She practices in Camarillo, CA and specializes in complex cases.

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