by Ashley Newton, PT, DPT
The lower ribs are attachment points for our abdominal musculature. We can actually self assess the health of our core by palpating the lower rib cage.
The ribs articulate in the center of our body at the sternum. The sternum terminates in the cup hood bone. The space below the xyphoid is known as the infrasternal angle. This angle is important when assessing our ability to stabilize the trunk. Ideally, this angle should be 90 degrees. This tells us that our body is not compensating to try to stabilize itself at the level of the trunk. However, more often than not, the angle is greater or less than 90 degrees and believe it or not, this can tell you a lot about your body.
If the infrasternal angle falls below 90 degrees, it is likely that you use your external oblique musculature a little too much. The external oblique stabilizes our trunk, but can oftentimes become the sole player in this action when in fact it requires the coordination of the two diaphragms and the rest of the abdominal musculature.
So why is this an issue? Well, if the external oblique is working overtime without the other abdominal muscles, this can lead to excessive pressure down into the pelvic floor and make one more at risk of pelvic organ prolapse, aesthetically it can create the lower abdominal “pooch”, and negatively affects our posture.
So what do I do?! First off, let go of your grip. Let go of your lower belly. More often than not, folks who have this tightness are walking around sucking in their belly. When we walk around, we want to think about our ribs drawing into our back body WHILE we grow tall through the back of the skull.
Most folks when told they need to correct their posture, brace their abdomen but this can lead to tightness and restriction in the abdomen and rib cage that can work against them and create different postural issues.
Instead, we need to grow tall and work on scapular strength, respiratory strength, and diaphragm length to balance the rib cage over the pelvis. Does the abdomen need to work, absolutely. But I think that you will find that by getting more length in the diaphragm and strength in the scapular musculature, it will require less effort to correct your posture and generate tension in the deepest layer of the abdomen that stabilizes the spine.
If you have this tightness in your abdomen, give one of the following exercises a try!
- Diaphragm release: in lying, bring the fingertips under the ribs and follow the ribs down as you scoop the fingers under the rib angle. Use lotion if available. This area should not be tender and should be mobile enough to fit up to your 2nd knuckle underneath the ribs.
- ILU massage
- Thoracic rotations/open books
- Uddiyana bandha in lying, seated and standing
- Jaw release