I recently was asked by a new teacher an excellent question that I think we’ve all seen in our clients. So I thought I’d share my thoughts with you.
“My private client pops her ribs a lot. Whenever she relaxes them, it creates tension on her neck. What’s going on and do you have any suggestions for exercises or cueing that might help her?”
So let’s walk through some imagery and exercises that might help correct distended ribs over time.
The most simplistic image I can use to describe this problem is a teeter totter. When weight is applied to one end, the other end lifts and visa versa. If you think of the ribs as one end of the teeter totter and the neck as the other, when the ribs are forced down, the neck lifts creating tension.
The problem is that the client isn’t creating more length through the back of the body to draw down the ribs. For lack of a better description, she’s just yanking them down.
One idea that may help is the feeling of releasing the ribcage down with gravity and the breath. “Giving into gravity” or “Relaxing the ribs down” or “Exhaling to dissolve the ribs into the floor.”
What’s most likely happening anatomically is when the client pulls the ribs down forcibly, the neck changes because the thoracic curve is staying the same. It’s excessively extended through the lower thoracic area and excessively flexed in the upper thoracic. When you cue the client to draw the ribs down, you actually want the spinous processes (the bony projections off the posterior of each vertebra) to change their relationship to one another — come a little closer together in the upper thoracic spine, and further apart in the lower thoracic and cervical. This will lengthen the curve of the thoracic and cervical spine.
You might cue the feeling of “Reaching long through the back of the neck and head.”
If you put all these ideas together into a cue it might sound something like, “Feel like you’re lengthening the back of the neck as you exhale to release the bottom ribs down into gravity, and draw the entire spine long onto the mat.”
No doubt that’s a mouthful.
But you can create a learning experience that’s simple and slow to teach this concept. Then apply the idea to an exercise. Cueing as many of the concept’s nuances as you can while reminding them to think back on the previous experience to help refine their positioning.
Check out this video as I demonstrate how to work through some possible exercises and a few of the finer points.
These exercises might be offered to clients as homework. If the do a little bit everyday, change will happen more quickly. And of course massage or self massage would be a great compliment to exercise for “popping” or distended ribs.
Let me know if this helps your clients!