Ribcage position is something most people get wrong when trying to improve their posture. Why? Because nobody taught us what the correct ribcage position was! Today, I am going to bring some light into this subject.
Incorrect Ribcage Position
Whenever I tell anybody that I work as a posture specialist, that person immediately tries to stand or sit “straight”. In doing so, he or she inadvertently makes their alignment worse. Let me show you why.
We seem instinctively know that rounded shoulders are wrong. What most people do not know is how to “un-round” them. They use their ribcage to improve the position of the shoulders. How? They push the chest (and ribcage with it) forward.
While doing so seem to make the shoulders go back, the low back suffers from this “adjustment”. It sure looks better than slouching but our backs hurt. It happens because when we move our chest forward, the groove in the lumbar spine deepens. Muscles on the sides of the lumbar spine shorten and become very tense. Do it yourself and you will find that it’s not a comfortable position. We cannot sustain it too long.
Many people have a tendency to push their chest forward without even realizing it. I often see this exaggerated curve in a low back. Below is a quite typical standing position with pelvis and ribcage pushed forward. This woman’s lumbar spine is contracted and shortened.
How to Self-Check Your Ribcage Position?
Now, it’s easier to see somebody else’s ribcage position. But how to check your own? Often, we cannot rely strictly on our body awareness.
Here is a simple test you can do at home. This test is to check if you have a tendency to push your chest forward. Especially, whether you compensate the limited range of motion in your shoulder joint by engaging your ribcage.
All your need to test your ribcage position is a wall and a pen or a pencil.
Stand near the wall with your ankles, butt, and shoulders touching it.
Chances are, you will not be able to touch your head to the wall without lifting your chin up. In this case, keep your head slightly away from the wall. It is more important to keep your neck in line with your spine.
Many people will have a noticeable arch in the lumbar spine because chest is now pushed forward.
If you cannot touch your shoulders to the wall and your whole low back touches the wall, your spine lost it’s S-curve. Your ribcage is not pushed forward but rather collapsed. I will talk about C-curve spine some other time.
Now, move ONLY YOUR FEET 2-3 inches away from the wall to accommodate for the space your butt requires. Notice how your ribcage slides down into a more neutral position. Neutral ribcage position is when the back between your shoulder blades touches the wall (bra line for women). If it still does not, press the mid-back into the wall.
Turn your hands so the palms are forward and the back of the hands touches the wall. Did your upper back curved and back of the ribcage moved away from the wall? If it did, it shows that a simple movement of rotating your shoulders out require you to engage the ribcage. You are doing it to compensate for the limited range of shoulder joint.
Chances are you are pushing the ribcage out even more when you need to lift your arms up.
Glide your arms sideways and up as if you were doing a snow angels. Some people may not be able to do even this simple movement. Many still can do it but notice the arch in a low back:
Now, put a pen or a pencil between your mid-back and a wall, perpendicular to your spine. Again, women can use a bra line on the back as a guide instead of a pencil.
Try to lift the arms in a snow angels movement KEEPING THE PENCIL ON THE WALL with your mid-back. Many of you will notice, that they cannot lift the arms all the way up as before. It means that your shoulder joints range of motion is limited. If you play basketball, tennis or racquetball, whenever your are lifting your arms, your ribcage gets pushed forward to compensate.
How to Improve Your Ribcage Position?
Start practicing standing near the wall with:
- Your feet parallel and hip-width apart.
- Heels about 2-3 inches away from the wall
- Butt and shoulders touching the wall.
Hold a pencil between your mid-back and a wall.
Rotate your hands so the palms are facing forward. Do not allow the pencil to slide down.
Stand in this position for a minute 2-3 times a day.
If you want to really increase the range of motion in your shoulders, try doing the show angels movement when holding the ribcage in a stabilized position. Hold a pencil between your mid-back and a wall and glide your arms up and down. Your range of motion will eventually increase.
Stay tuned – next week I will show you the correct relationship between your pelvis and ribcage in standing position.
Be Upright. Be Happy. Live Pain Free.
Learn how YOU can restore your posture at my Upright Posture Fitness Studio in Hudson, MA