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  • Jo Everill-Taylor

Compensatory Movement Patterns:Flared Ribs

This month I thought we’d look at a common compensatory movement patterns that we regularly see in Pilates classes; Flared Ribs.

Our body works as a whole kinetic chain, with soft tissue, joints, nerves, muscles all being connected throughout- a true synergy of systems to elicit movement to allow us to look after ourselves and accomplish daily tasks.

However, modern life can interrupt this lovely flow of activation, leading to altered movement patterns. This can then manifest itself in other areas of the body “taking the strain” leading to malalignment, discomfort and ultimately injury.

Let’s look at 1 of the common ones that we see people presenting with:

Flared Rib Cage

What is it?

  • This is when the lower ribs protrude forward and stick out

  • It becomes particularly apparent when lying on your back on your mat

  • It also alters your postural alignment in standing and seated

What causes it?

  • Rib flare points towards an imbalance in the muscles of the core and torso such as weak abs.

  • The anterior torso muscles are often not connecting/activating fully, so muscles in the upper chest /shoulder area over-work to try and help stabilise the torso and assist with any load bearing.

  • This then pulls the shoulders up and back, and opens the rib cage (flares the ribs)

  • These can all be problems related to being seated at your desk, driving a car/van or jobs with carrying/pulling work.

Why is this a problem?

  • You can end up with an over-arch of the lower back and extra load and strain can be placed in that area potentially leading to issues with the vertebrae and discs.

  • This can have a “knock-on” effect further up the spine causing further mal-loading and discomfort.

  • This all compromises the stability of the spine, leaving it open to injury and over-use issues.

What can we do?

So we have a 3 point plan of attack: soft tissue release, stretches and mobilisations, then add in some load and whole body movements to stabilise and improve neural control of the body as a whole:

  • Practice some soft tissue releases around the upper shoulder and shoulder blade area. A tennis ball against the wall is a great one here. This will help to let the ribs move again.

  • Follow this with neck stretches, back stretches and chest openers.

  • Now add in some breathwork- remember your Pilates breathe? Filling the rib-cage with air? In through the noise and out through the mouth…….

  • Once these are in place you can start to add in your core stability and abdominal work. This will help to draw the ribs down and allow the lower back to move freely again. Remember your small pad/pillow/towel under your neck can really help you tune into the activation of the core. These are generally the preparation movements that we do in class and option 1 in our multi-level sessions.

  • We can then start to challenge this improved activation sequence and alignment with bigger exercises such as squats, single leg work and balance work.

You'll hear us use cues such as:

  • Nod your chin to your chest

  • Draw your ribs down

  • Aim your eye-line diagonally forwards

  • Brace your mid-section

  • Check your abs are not doming

So next time you are in your Pilates class, take a moment to focus on what your rib-cage is doing and remember why it is important to work on that area!

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