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What do my ribs have to do with my neck or low back pain?

If you’re a person who struggles with nagging pain in your neck or low back, have you ever noticed how your ribs move? Or, if they move? When you walk, your ribs should rotate and your arms should swing. If you looked at a sprinter like Usain Bolt in slow motion, you’d see how his ribs rotate to the opposite side of his pelvis as he runs. The same should be true for us as we walk and run.

I was out riding on the trail last week and saw so many people walking who didn’t rotate at the ribs, but more from the hips. I wanted to stop and ask them if they are struggling with low back pain. When the ribs get “locked up,” something else has to give. If you have neck or low back pain and assess your gate, you may be able to help yourself out of pain.

So what can you do to help get your ribs moving? First of all, start with breathing. Notice if you are able to breathe fully into your diaphragm. Practice lying down, knees bent and feet on the floor. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen. Breathe in through your nose. Can you feel your abdomen rise while your chest remains quiet? This will help you notice if you are merely breathing into your chest or if you can get your breath to expand your diaphragm. Your diaphragm is your primary muscle of inhalation. Your diaphragm lies inside your ribs and is connected to your ribs through fascia. It is also connected to your thoracolumbar fascia which many times is “dehydrated” and “stiff” and can be the cause of back pain.

The easiest way I get clients to get out of pain is to teach them the 3-D Breath Breakdown and 3-D Breath in the MELT Method Rebalance Sequence. Rehydrating the tissue that is connected to your ribs from the inside is the first step. Second, learning other MELT Method Rehydrating techniques like the Upper Back Compression sequence including Rib Gliding and Rib Side Bend will help get the fascia more elastic. Third, practicing proper form when exercising, doing rotation exercises and side bending will help as well. If you rotate your ribs in an oblique sit up, can you leave your pelvis stable and your low back in a neutral position? If you side bend, can you move your ribs and allow your pelvis to stay heavy in a seated position? Then practice your gait, noticing if you can allow your ribs to rotate a bit more naturally when you walk.

If you feel stuck and you need more help getting out of pain, reach out to me.

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