Have you ever gone to the doctor for lower back pain and was told to either lose weight or do lower back exercises? If so, the hoola hoop may be the tool for you. About 45% of the US population has had lower back pain and it’s the second leading cause for disability.
As a Certified Functional Manual Therapist and Pilates Certified Physical Therapist, I have had the opportunity to treat patients primarily diagnosed with acute or chronic lower back pain. Often, the patient’s lower back pain is mechanical in nature. Mechanical lower back pain is a result of a dysfunction of the muscles/ligaments and/or misalignment of the spine and/or pelvis. Therefore, they CAN be treated with manual therapy, education, and lower back exercises.
According to pioneer physical therapist, Gregg Johnson, our core stabilizers are the transverse abdominus, pelvic floor muscles, multifidus,and deep fibers of the hip flexors and quadratus lumborum. When our body experiences lower back pain, our body has a mechanism that “inhibits” these muscles. Once these muscles are “sleeping”, our body lacks protection from perturbations. This can lead to further injury and pain.
Our body has two types of muscle fibers: phasic and tonic. Our phasic muscles are our “movers” for quick movements like getting out of bed and do not last long. On the other hand, our tonic muscles are for “posture” by stabilize the body. Tonic muscles are capable of working for long periods of time. Therefore, the core muscles are known as tonic muscles. Again, when the body feels pain, these tonic muscles, known as “core stabilizers”, turn off and it is my job to teach you specific exercises to “wake” those muscles up again.
Therefore, I focus on core stabilizing exercises to “wake” up the “protective” muscles. One way to do this is with hoola hooping. Many patients note their abdomen feeling sore the next day after hooping and did not even feel like they were working their abs out.
Not only does the hoola hoop focus on core stabilization, certain movements performed in conjunction with the hoop can also help with lower back pain. These lower back exercises with the hoop can help improve posture, increase coordination and balance, gain body awareness and symmetry, teach your spine and pelvis to be supple again, and lose weight from a cardiovascular perspective. These additional benefits can also help decrease lower back pain.
As you know, lower back pain can be very disabling. Hoola hooping lower back exercises can also help prevent lower back pain and help your body be efficient with its movement and perform your daily functions with increase ease.
Jodi Jainchill PT, CFMT
You must warm-up, warm-up, warm-up. Just like any other dance form, hoop dance requires a full body warm-up. In its full expression, hoop dance requires full body extensions, body twists and seamless turns. So why would you not warm-up like any other dancer or athlete?
Your warm-up should include movement to increase blood flow to each body part. Therefore, moving into and out of a movement rather than a hold is safest. If you hold a position, you are ‘cold’ and more at risk to tear muscle fibers. But, keep in mind, moving gently and fluidly in and out of a stretch does not mean ‘bouncing’. It is important that you listen to your body.
Your routine for stretching should be specific and instructional. A general warm-up may miss warming up your ankles or wrist. As we know in our hooping community, these joints are prime body parts for injury, so DO NOT forget these guys in your warm-up each time. And what makes warming up even more fun and interesting is to make your warm-up more integrated. That is, add some full body movements while warming up your wrist or ankles.
Some other concepts I would like to talk about is the difference between muscles for stability vs. strength. We all have heard the term, ‘strengthen your core’. And we all know hooping can do this for you. But, what does that all really mean?
Basically, your core stabilizers are small muscles that support your spine and trunk to be safe for long periods of time while doing daily functional activities like wiping the counter or lifting a light or heavy box. On the other hand strength is the muscles that turn on quickly to aid in lifting or moving objects. Both types of muscles are important, but we often tend to train strength rather than core. This may be due to core muscle exercises being very specific and may take more time to train/turn on during an exercise program in relationship to strength muscles. And well, hooping meets this goal.
While we all know we can hoop for extended periods of time doing both on body and off body movements, hooping can be very repetitive. Be sure to be more symmetrical in your practice. I cannot emphasize enough how quickly you can have an injury from repetitive movement.
One of the many beauties of hooping is the fluidity of movement. So you may notice when you are first learning a movement, whether it is on your waist, shoulders or hands, it may not always be smooth at first. When a movement is jerky, it is indicating that not all segments of your body are moving in correct timing. Your body will move like a symphony when your muscles are recruiting properly. Therefore, your hoop gives wonderful feedback as to when you are moving correctly. If you find you are moving jerky with a new movement, be sure to do the following: breathe, do the movement without the hoop, visualize the movement, watch yourself in the mirror, and most importantly, DO NOT spend too much time practicing a movement incorrectly. You will often find, the next time you pick up a hoop, your body will ‘learn’ the movement and it will be easier to be bad ass with that ‘trick’.
After a hoop practice, be sure to do a cool down stretch and drink plenty of water. This will help keep your muscles from getting stiff and sore later on. During the cool down, it is appropriate to do stretches you can hold. This is safe here because your muscles are already warm and less likely to ‘tear’. It is also a good time to do a body scan to help increase your body awareness. Good body awareness can help prevent future injuries. If you are in tune with your body’s limits, you will be able to listen to your body better.
Jodi Jainchill PT, CFMT
‘I am suffering from right lower back pain. I thought it was sciatica, but it seems that hooping is agitating my back and hip. Could it be my sacroiliac joint (SI joint)?’
Let me start by saying, the body is so complex, so it is always best to get a licensed practitioner to put their hands on you and evaluate you individually. But, it is important that you are educated so you can understand how to help heal your body and continue your daily life without pain and of course, hoop to your heart’s delight!
From my experience as a physical therapist, it is always important to check the SI join’s alignment. The pelvis is the foundation of your body. If your pelvis is out of alignment, then the rest of the spine has to stack itself accordingly.
What is the SI joint? Place your hands on the top of your hips on each side of your body and wrap your thumbs along your back. Where your palms rest is your ilium and about where your thumbs reach is where the ilium meets the triangular bone of the sacrum. This is loosely where the SI joint is.
The SI joint is held together by strong ligaments. There are no per say muscles that directly attach to the SI joint. BUT, there are muscles that influence the SI joint. It is important to stabilize the SI joint via its ligaments and the muscles that influence the joint. It is important to keep in mind that both males and females are affected. Although, it is noted that females do experience more SI joint dysfunction than males. This is due to the female pelvis having less contact at the actual joint than males. Also, since ligaments primarily stabilize this joint, during a female menstrual cycle, a female may experience more laxity in her ligaments. During this period for females, the SI joint may be more unstable. It may be a time to not perform activities that stress this joint. I will speak further on this later in this article
The three muscles that effects the SI join are the gluts, transverse abdominus and ‘lats’. It is important to stabilize your SIJ using these muscles. One excellent exercise that achieves this goal is bridging with a ‘lat’ pull down. Lie a foot away from a safely closed door and a theraband safely placed on the door handle. While lifting your hips in neutral spine and pelvis during the bridge, pull down on the theraband with arms and wrist straight. Pull down your arms towards your thighs with enough tension in theraband to stimulate your ‘lat’ muscles. Make sure your shoulder blades glide down your rib cage for correct alignment.
At the beginning, it is important to do exercises and activities that do not stress the SI joint. Therefore, do exercises and activities that require both arms and/or legs simultaneously. These exercises are referred to as ‘bilateral symmetrical’ movements. As you progress your exercise program, it may be safe to perform exercises that are one-sided. These exercises are referred to as ‘unilateral asymmetrical’ movements.
Another example of a ‘bilateral symmetrical’ exercise would be and ‘isometric adduction’. This exercise can be done several times throughout the day. Lie down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place a plastic ball or folded pillow between your knees and gently squeeze your knees towards each other for 5-10 seconds. Be sure to breathe. You can perform this exercise 6x each time 4-5x a day.
An example of a ‘unilateral assymetrical’ exercise would be bridging with one leg. Notice, I have given exercises with the spine supported in the lying down, ‘supine’ position. As you progress with exercises, you may perform exercises in the unsupported position of sitting and standing.
Nutrition can also play a role in the health of your SI joint. You may want to ask your health care practitioner about taking manganese for a short period of time. Manganese, not magnesium, can help ‘tighten’ your ligaments. Also, sugar, caffeine and alcohol can increase your perception of pain.
If you are really unstable, it is beyond the scope of being managed without the assistance of a professional. You may need to be fitted with an SI belt or referred to prolotherapy. This article is to help educate you and help direct you whether you need further assistance.
Jodi Jainchill PT, CFMT
‘ really want to exercise and I love to hoop. When can I start hooping again?’ This is a question I often get from people who have experienced back pain at some point in their life. First, let me start by saying you should consult your practitioner for clearance to exercise. Next, I would like to educate you on three different stages of recovery from back pain. Once you understand these three stages of recovery from back pain, it may help you and your practitioner decide when you are ready to start an exercise program.
After a back injury or exacerbation of an old injury, you are considered to be in the acute phase. The acute phase usually lasts about two weeks. It is important to consult your practitioner to rule out any organic factors that may be referring pain. I highly recommend this especially if you do not know how you hurt your back. Also, if you feel pain, tingling or numbness down your leg. The main goals during the acute phase is to decrease inflammation and find a position of comfort. You can decrease inflammation with ice or an anti-inflammatory prescribed by your practitioner. You may also need to take pain medication and muscle relaxers in order to break your pain cycle. Next, your position of comfort should be in neutral alignment. This will allow for space for your spine to heal without increasing stress on the spine’s structures. At this point, stabilizing exercises that are in neutral and supported are beneficial. Therefore, at this time, hooping would not be recommended during this pain stage.
The second stage of recovery is called the sub-acute stage. This stage generally lasts from two to four/six weeks. During this stage you are still vulnerable to re-injury. This is a time to progress your spine’s stabilization. You may slowly progress from supported to unsupported exercises. Depending on the severity of your injury, you may still want to maintain a neutral spine with your exercises. This is also an important time to use correct body mechanics with your functional daily activities. You should also avoid repetitive activities as well as any aggravating movements. Therefore, you must learn to set your limits during this stage. You may still want to ice after any irritating movements to prevent further inflammation. Therefore, depending on your extent of your injury in this phase, you may be able to start hooping for short periods of time if you are relatively pain free. This means you have minimal pain and hooping does not increase your pain during hooping for one to two days thereafter. If not, hold off until you are more pain free and stable.
After six weeks from your injury or exacerbation, you are now in the chronic phase of recovery. During this stage, your goal is to return to your normal activities of daily living. In doing so, it is important to have good body mechanics. It is also time to progress your exercise program to unsupported articulating positions. Yes, this means you may start hooping if you are relatively pain free. I usually have a patient start with only five minutes a day of waist hooping without any increase in back pain. After a few days, I progress my patient to ten minutes daily without any increase of pain. Then I recommend to increase their time slowly in increments of five minutes for a cardio workout. It is important to not have any increase in pain during or after your exercise program. You may benefit from ice after you exercise as well.
Some times there will be set backs during your recovery. If this happens, please be patient and set your limits to continue your recovery. You must find a balance with the help of your practitioner. It is important to get movement and stability for your spine to help heal. But at the same time, you do not want to exacerbate the injury. If you are not getting better, this is a ‘red flag’. It would be important to consult with your practitioner for further testing. You must also remember there are other factors to consider for your healing. These include your age, back and health history, eating habits and digestion, pain tolerance, personality, athletic background and daily activities. Also, only add one new activity or exercise at a time. This way you can easily identify any one activity that may cause any new onset of pain or aggravation while returning to your normal daily exercise program and activities. There are so many variables to an injury as well as the process of healing for each individual. Be sure to consider your individual situation rather than comparing yourself to others and their healing process as you return to your hooping and exercise goals.
Jodi Jainchill PT, CFMT`
-red flag if not getting better`
I just sprained my ankle again and now I cannot put much weight on it. Why do I keep spraining my ankle? I wonder how long this will take before I can hoop and exercise as I wish? I do not understand why this keeps happening?
After my hoop camp experience, I learned that many hoopers have re-occurring ankle sprains. So, I wanted to share my experience in working with patients as well as personal experience with ankle injuries.
An initial ankle injury could be due to trauma like a car accident or a horse falling on you, as I have experienced. It may also be just simply not stretching your calves out properly before an activity or wearing heels you do not have the strength to wear. It may also be just a missed step on stairs or an uneven surface that your ankle does not have the awareness or proprioception to do so.
Once you sprain your ankle, it is very common to re-sprain your ankle if you do not rehab your ankle properly. It is ideal to be guided by a medical doctor or physical therapist. When you ‘twist’ your ankle, there are three ‘grades’ to determine how severe the sprain is. Each ‘grade’ is a reflection of the degree the ankle ligaments are torn and the degree of instability in the ankle. The most common ankle sprain is an ‘inversion’ sprain. This will effect the lateral/outside ligaments. So basically, it means you roll you ankle ‘out’.
Once you sprain your ankle and determine it is a mild sprain, there are a few basic steps to be aware of for treatment. If there is a lot of swelling and black and blue around the ankle, it would be wise and highly recommended to see an medical doctor to rule out any fractures. Otherwise, for a mild ankle sprain, the recipe during the initial/ ‘acute’ stage is RICE.
R: ‘Rest’ The injured ligaments need time to heal. Therefore, not bearing weight can relieve stress to the ligaments. Sometimes, crutches are necessary. Limping is not a good choice. Limping could cause secondary injury to other parts of the body like the sacroiliac joint (SIJ).
I: ‘Ice’ To decrease the inflammation from an ankle sprain, ice is a good remedy. The best way is using an ice bath. Fill a bucket up with water and ice and place your foot in for about ten minutes. It should be cold enough that it is uncomfortable initially and then the ankle will feel better as the foot feels ‘numb’. Do not leave in much longer than ten minutes since over icing can cause adverse effects. You can ice for ten minutes every one to two hours for the first 48-72 hours. Also, an anti-inflammatory prescribed by your medical doctor may also be beneficial. Also, the homeopathic remedy Arnica Montana may be helpful if used soon after the initial injury.
C: ‘Compression’. By applying an equal distribution of compression with an ace bandage, you can control the amount of swelling. It is important to wrap using ‘figure 8’s’. Otherwise, circular wrapping could impede blood flow. I also find at the initial stage to tape the foot using a ’stirrup’ technique is very helpful. I will talk more about this later in this article.
E: ‘Elevation’ It is important to keep your injured ankle above the heart. So when lying down, place pillows under your leg to keep it safely supported above the heart. From my experience, this will help the throbbing pain that can wake you up in the middle of the night after an ankle sprain.
Once you are past the acute stages of your ankle injury, it is time to slowly rehab your ankle. The acute stage can last up to two weeks. But, you must be sure enough healing has occurred, otherwise you can easily re-injure your ankle. A common reason why people re-sprain their ankle after healing, is not having the correct strength, flexibility, and proprioception return which allows for safety with daily activities as well as exercises like hoop dance.
I find increasing your ankles stability during this stage is essential. You can use an ankle brace which can be purchased from the local pharmacy or my preferred method, the stirrup. As a PT, my patients are always amazed at how much support this stirrup method of taping gives their ankle. This McConnel taping technique places strong tape like a stirrup to add support to the ankles medial/lateral stability. This taping will allow more comfort with weight bearing since it is reinforcing the ankles ligaments and muscles that may have weakened.
Another important aspect during this healing stage is to increase range of motion (ROM) in the ankle. After swelling and keeping the ankle immobile, the ankle gets stiff. It is best to start with non-weight bearing exercises like spelling the alphabet in mid air. Once you are able to have full range of motion in all directions without stiffness or pain, then you can progress to flexibility in weight bearing.
It is important to regain flexibility of your calves. A simple calf stretch against the wall performed 7x a day for about 20 seconds at a time is most beneficial. Make sure your toes are turned slightly in and that you stretch your calf with the knee straight and bent. In addition to gaining flexibility, it is also time to increase your strength of your ankle.
There are several ways to safely strengthen your ankle. It is best to start in non-weight bearing. You can use a light theraband for resistance. Then, slowly move to weight bearing exercises like heel raises. In addition to weight bearing, a very important element to work with in conjunction to strengthening is proprioception.
One of the main reasons people re-sprain their ankle is because they never reinstate proprioception. This means, they never teach their ankle where it is in space. One good exercise is to simply stand on one leg. You can add difficulty to challenge your proprioception by standing on a pillow. And then, when you are safe, closing your eyes to further challenge your proprioception.
If you reach all these rehab goals for your ankle, your ankle will have more stability and awareness. These aspects will benefit your ankle’s integrity to perform your daily activities and hoop dance regime. Remember, it is important to maintain flexibility, strength and proprioception in order to keep your ankle safe from re-injury.
Jodi Jainchill PT CFMT
I often am told that my body moves so easily when I hoop. I call this ‘effortless movement’. I explain that usually when you first start hooping, it requires a lot of effort. In this case, your movement is less subtle. As your spine becomes more supple, your movement will become smoother and less jerky.
When the spine and pelvis move like a slithering snake, then each segment of the spine and the pelvis are contributing to the movement. In other words, if a segment is stiff, then other segments have to move more to make up for it. This dysfunction can be diagnostic. It could tell me that there may be an instability at the segment where there is too much movement. This instability is where core stabilization is helpful. It also could indicate that there is a restriction where there is no or little movement at a segment. I find hula hooping to be what pioneer Physical Therapist, Gregg Johnson, terms as an excellent ‘functional movement pattern.’ A series of movements that helps evaluate and treat the body’s dysfunctions in a functional way.
I have also noticed that personality types and emotions can play a role in how well someone starts hooping. I find it interesting when someone who seems to be ‘uptight’, ‘insecure’ or has experienced a traumatic event can hoop like a champion. Often this is not the case. And this works both ways. I also notice and find it interesting when someone who seems quite ‘laid back’ or ’secure’ gets really stiff when they hoop. Again, this is not always the case. I feel like hooping could also tap into the psychology diagnostic world as well.
But, what I love most is the energy shifts I see after someone hoops. I know what it is like, since I experience this transformation myself with hooping. It does not matter if the person was very successful or just a little successful with their first attempts at hooping. Regardless, there is a smile. And when someone is smiling, their energy is flowing up. And when energy is flowing, it feels delightful.
I love how hula hooping is so much fun and yet diagnostic and transforming. Hooping can help the spine loosen up and strengthen core muscles to help prevent possible injuries. It also seems that it can help change your state of emotional being. This can help a person feel better about themselves. Yet, there are still many other additional benefits including losing weight and improving posture. Wow, pretty amazing for a plastic circle.
Jodi Jainchill PT, CFMT
“I stretch my back out every morning, but it still gets tight and achy. What do I need to do?”
This is often one of the most common questions people ask about for lower back tightness and aches. Although stretching your back feels like the right muscles to stretch, it is usually not the only muscle group that needs to be stretched. The lower back may already be over-stretched and may not even need to be stretched.
First thing to realize is that there are about 32 muscles that attach to the pelvis. The position of the pelvis effects how your back may feel. Therefore, there are a lot of muscles to consider relating to your lower back. There are five major muscle groups to consider to stretch for your lower back. These include:
- Hip Flexors (Iliopsoas)
- Chest (increase upper back extension)
- Lower Back
I am going to talk about each muscle group in detail. Therefore, I have broken this article into four parts. I will address a muscle group in each article. I will explain this information in a Q&A format. I will first discuss the hip flexors and in particular the iliopsoas muscle.
Q: Where are the iliopsoas muscles?
A: The iliopsoas start in your lower back and attaches to the front of your hip (yes, from back to front).
Q: Why should the iliopsoas muscles be stretch?
A: When your hip flexors get tight, they make your back arch and cause compression on your spine.
Q: How should the iliopsoas be stretched?
A: They can be stretched in several positions. I will discuss some examples in the next question, but the most important techniques to consider is that you ‘tuck your tailbone under’ and keep your toes facing forward.
Q: What are some examples of stretchs?
A: There are many variations. All are great when done correctly. I will begin with the easier positions.
1. Stand with one leg in front of the other at hip width apart (stride position). You’ll be stretching the back hip flexor. Bend both knees slightly. Tuck tailbone under.
2. You can also stretch at the end of the table when lying on your back. Have your buttocks to the very edge of the table. Bring both knees to your chest. Keep one knee to your chest and then let the other leg drop off the edge of the table.
3. More advanced, you can do a “runner’s stretch”. Lie on your side and bring both knees to your chest. Grab the top ankle. Tuck your tailbone under. Bring the ankle back towards your buttocks.
4. Another advanced hip flexor stretch is in ‘half kneeling’. Kneel on one knee in a stride. Tuck your tailbone under and shift your weight forward. Make sure your front knee is above or behind your ankle.
5. You can also get a hip flexor stretch while hooping with one leg in front of the other (stride stance). Be sure your back foot toes are facing forward. There is a tendency for the toes to go outward. You may notice that the hooping stretch is performed in a functional position. This stretch while hooping is similar the stretch the hhip flexors get during walking.
Q: How often and how many times should I stretch my iliopsoas?
A: You can hold these positions for 30-60 seconds or move in and out of the stretch slowly and gently. Do not ‘bounce’. Do 1-2 sets in the a.m. and then again in the p.m. It is best to spread out your stretches to allow the muscle fibers to maintain their new length and keep it. For the hooping stretch, you can do the movement for 30-60 seconds in the a.m. and p.m. as well.
Q: What should I be careful of when stretching my iliopsoas?
A: You should not force a deep stretch so you can maintain correct spine and pelvic position for safety.
Q: What are some helpful hints and tips about the iliopsoas muscles?
A: It is good if you can have your iliopsoas released by a trained professional. It would also be good to get releases done to your quadricep muscles.
It is important to understand why you are stretching a particular muscle group. This understanding helps you do the exercise safe and correct. In the next article, I will address the hamstrings in further detail. The hamstrings, like the hip flexors, play an important role on the pelvis which affects the lower back. This will be discussed in great detail in Part II of ” What Do I Need To Stretch For My Lower Back Exercise Program?”
Jodi Jainchill PT, CFMT
Ready to learn about the second group of muscles that helps you when you have lower back muscle tightness and aches? In the first article of this fiver part series, “What Do I Need To Stretch For My Lower Back Exercise Program?”, I discussed the hip flexors. In this article, I will discuss the hamstrings in the same Q & A format. Let’s begin.
Q: Where are the hamstring muscles?
A: These long muscles start at your sit bones and attach to behind your knee. They include semitendinosis, semimembrinosis, and biceps femoris. Yes, the hamstrings are a set of three different muscles.
Q: Why should the hamstring muscles be stretch?
A: When they are tight, they pull on your pelvis causing your lower back to get rounded. This causes compression to your spine. Compression can lead to tightness, aches and eventually lower back pain and problems
Q: How should the hamstrings be stretched?
A: They should be stretched with your tail bone pushed out, not tucked in. But, make sure your lower back is not ‘locked’ in an arched position. Also, your knees should be straight.
Q: What are some examples of hamstring stretches?
A: There are many variations and positions. I will discuss some starting with the positions that are easiest to perform correctly.
1. Lie on your back with your buttock near a wall. Place one heel on the wall and the other foot flat on the floor with knee bent. Slide your heel along the wall until you can straighten your knee gently. Bring your buttocks closer to the wall for a further stretch. If you cannot straighten your knee all the way, move your buttocks back from the wall until you can and still feel and gentle stretch.
2. When you are comfortable with the first example position, you can do the same exercise using a towel, sheet or ring around your heel for support, instead of the wall. For a further stretch, you can flex your foot and turn your toes either inward or outward.
3. An advanced position would be in standing. Place your heel on a low table or chair. Make sure your tail bone is pushed out gently. Next, bend forward coming from the hips. Make sure your back is not rounded but in ‘neutral’.
4. Another advanced position is the standing forward bend. Often, people ’round’ their back from bending at the lower spine. It is important to bend from the hips and keep the tailbone out without arching your back. Also, keep your knees straight. (same principles apply to the hamstring stretch performed in sitting with your legs straight)
Q: How often and how many times should I stretch my hamstrings?
A: If you do not experience sharp pain, which I talk about below, you can hold the position for 30-60 seconds 1-2 times in the a.m. then 1-2 times in the p.m. to help build length in your muscles. Be sure not to ‘bounce’ in the stretch. Alternatively, you can oscillate in and out of the stretch gently 10 times 1-2 times in the a.m. and 1-2 times in the p.m.
Q: What should I be careful of when stretching my hamstrings?
A: You should not force a deep stretch cause you can irritate your sciatic nerve. If you feel a sharp pain, you are probably irritating the sciatic nerve. It is best to use the oscillating technique mentioned above. In this case,do not go into a deep stretch.
Q: What are some helpful hints and tips about the hamstring muscles?
A: If you are doing these stretches and everyday you have the same amount of tightness, it may not just be the length of the muscles. It could be the ability of the muscles to move from left to right. Certain massaging techniques that moves the muscles left to right may help with this. Also, be aware you may have more of a nerve issue rather than a muscle tightness. Furthermore, If you have a muscle tear, it would be wise to be under the supervision of a doctor or physical therapist. Often, muscle tears do not like to be stretched until enough healing has taken place.
I hope this helps you have a better understanding of your hamstrings. It is important to understand why you are stretching a particular muscle group. When you understand more about your body, it helps to do your exercises safe and correct. In the next article, I will address the chest muscles in detail. The chest muscles, like the hamstrings and hip flexors, play an important role on the pelvis which affects the lower back. This will be discussed in great detail in Part III of ” What Do I Need To Stretch For My Lower Back Exercise Program?”
Jodi Jainchill PT, CFMT
You have now read about the hip flexors and the hamstrings, are you ready to learn about the next group of muscles that helps you when you have lower back muscle tightness and aches? Here, we will now discuss the ‘chest’ muscles for this five part article series, “What Do I Need To Stretch For My Lower Back Exercise Program?”. In this article, I will focus on the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor chest muscles. When the ‘chest’ muscles are stretched, it helps with upper back extension mobility, which is also an important part of a good lower back exercise program. I will continue in a Q & A format. Let’s get started.
Q: Where are the ‘chest’ muscles?
A: The pectoralis major is a large fan-shaped muscle that has two parts. It originates from both the clavicle (collar bone) and the sternum (chest bone). It inserts into the front of the shoulder (anterior humerus). The pectoralis minor originates from the front of the rib cage on ribs 3-5 and inserts into the corocoid process of the scapula (found just below the mid collar bone).
Q: Why should the ‘chest’ muscles be stretched?
A: When you chest muscles are tight, your posture becomes ’rounded’. With ’rounded shoulders’, it also causes more compression on your lower back. When the ‘chest’ muscles are stretched which allows your shoulders to be in a neutral position, your upper back (thoracic) can move into extension. It is important to have extension in your upper back so your lower back can have its normal curve (lordosis). When your spine is in neutral, walking, standing, and sitting can be performed safely without compression to the spine.
Q: How should the ‘chest’ muscles be stretched?
A: They should be stretched with your rib cage ‘funneled down’. This means that when you exhale, your ribs come towards each other. Also, your chin should be slightly and gently tucked. The goal of the neck position is to elongate the spine effortlessly.
Q: What are some examples of ‘chest’ muscle stretches?
A: There are many variations and positions. I will discuss some starting with the positions that are easiest to perform correctly.
1. Elbow Press: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor to protect your back (hooklying position). Clasp your hands behind your head and press your elbows towards the floor. Keep your ribs ‘funneled’ down and breathe. You can make this more challenging by rolling a towel and placing it at your ‘bra’ line. Be sure to ‘funnel’ your ribs and tilt your pelvis towards your nose (12:00) to protect your back and stretch your chest muscles.
2. Standing ‘pec’ stretch: Stand in a door jam with your elbow supported by the door jam and place your elbow at a 90 degree angle to the floor. Have your outside leg in front. Tuck your chin gently and ‘funnel’ your ribs. Gently shift your weight forward to move into the stretch. You can change the angle of your elbow on the door jam to stretch more parts of your ‘pec’ muscle (as shown in picture).
3. ‘Sand Angel’: In Florida, we cannot do ’snow angels’. If you have a foam roll or a large pool ‘noodle’ you can perform this exercise. DO NOT stay on foam roll for more than one minute the first couple of times. Your spine must build a tolerance. Make sure your lower back is touching the foam roll by tilting your pelvis to ‘12:00′. Have your elbows bent and begin moving your arms slowly up towrds your ears trying to maintain contact with the floor. You may need to place pillows on both sides of the foam roll at first to support your arms until you gain more flexibility. You do not want to overstretch or irritate a nerve. When you find a ‘tight’ spot, stop in that position and breathe into the tightness for about 10 seconds prior to moving into another position.
4. ‘Cat-Camel’ Upper back extension mobility: Get onto your hands and knees (quadraped or ‘tabletop’). Make sure your shoulders are over your wrist and your hips are over your knees. Lift your head gently up while allowing your tailbone to come up towrds the ceiling and allowing your navel to ’sag’ towards the floor. DO NOT bend your elbows and make sure that weight remains on your knees. You can alternate this position by dropping your tailbone down between your thighs and dropping your head to look at your navel allowing your mid-back to come up towards the ceiling. You can perform this alternating movement ten times slowly.
Q: How often and how many times should I stretch my ‘chest’ muscles?
A: If you do not experience sharp nerve pain or tingling, which I will talk about below, you can hold the position for 30-60 seconds (unless already noted) 1-2 times in the a.m. then 1-2 times in the p.m. to help build length in your muscles. Be sure not to ‘bounce’ in the stretch.
Q: What should I be careful of when stretching my ‘chest’ muscles?
A: You should not force a deep stretch cause you can irritate your nerves in your arms (medial, radial, ulnar nerves). You should be especially cautious when performing the exercises that have your arms straight. If you feel a sharp pain or tingling, then you are probably irritating the arm nerves. It is best to use an oscillating technique as discussed in the previous article for hamstrings regarding the sciatic nerve. You must be very cautious cause nerves DO NOT like to be stretched. In this case,do not go into a deep stretch. Often, it is best to under the supervision of a physician or physical therapist when having nerve pain.
Q: What are some helpful hints and tips about the ‘chest’ muscles?
A: If you are doing these stretches and everyday you have the same amount of tightness, it may be due to the angles you are stretching. Make sure you address all angles since the pectoralis muscle is a large muscle. Also, it is important to perform scapular stabilization exercises to help maintain your new range of motion. I will go into detail in future articles, but one example is the ’superman’. Lie on your tummy with a pillow under your stomach. Also, place your forehead on a towel to have your neck elongated. Reach your fingertips towards your feet. Then while you continue to reach towards your feet, lift your palms up towards the ceiling. Work to hold this for up to 1-2 minutes over time. Furthermore, be aware of nerve signs I mentioned. If you experience these symptoms, you may have more of a nerve issue rather than a muscle tightness. If you have sharp pain or tingling or think you may have a muscle tear, it would be wise to be under the supervision of a doctor or physical therapist. Often, nerve issues and muscle tears need special care for healing.
I hope this helps you have a better understanding of your ‘chest’ muscles. It is important to understand why you are stretching a particular muscle group. When you understand more about your body, it helps to do your exercises safe and correct. In the next article, I will address the buttocks muscles. The buttocks muscles also play an important role on the pelvis along with the hip flexors, hamstrings, and ‘chest’ muscles. This will be discussed in great detail in Part IV of ” What Do I Need To Stretch For My Lower Back Exercise Program?”
Jodi Jainchill PT, CFMT