Mother Thruster

If you’re interested in reading more on ideas presented in the article below, I suggest reading Alignment Matters. If you’d like movement instruction via video, start with Alignment Snacks: Let’s Do the Twist.

Remember Mama Sweat’s Kara Thom from back in the all-things pelvic floor days? Well she remembered me when her body starting taking issue with her favorite pastimes. After a couple of email exchanges (read those here) addressing her habit of consuming more “exercise dessert” than “movement vitamins,” I came up with a plan for her to follow, starting with her psoas.

Communicating with someone via email is fine, but in order to really quantify Kara’s movement capabilities, I needed to get my eyes on her. Thank you, Skype!

Like many of my imaginary friends on the Internet, I had never actually talked to Kara in person. Or on Skype, which is the new “in-person,” apparently.

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(If you’re wondering what awesome lens filter I am using to get this image quality, it’s called “Two-year old, almond butter, coconut oil.”)

Kara and I covered a lot of material. As much material as one can cover with a total of 7 kids wandering to and fro. And a puppy.

See the puppy?

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We also covered the fact that we were wearing the same outfit.

Kara:

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Katy:

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Kara’s accompanying message with her texted picture, “Ignore the laundry.” Oh I do, Kara. You have no idea how I ignore the laundry. See pic.

1. The first thing I had Kara do was stand so I could see how she distributes a load throughout her body. She carries her pelvis in front of her feet. This means a lot of things, but in the case of her hip and spine issues, it means that she is masking tension elsewhere by displacing her body — the parts she can move — around the parts that have stiffened.

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2. Then I had her back her pelvis up until the hip and knee and ankle lined up vertically. To accomplish a vertical leg she had to bring her torso forward, which gives me an idea of the resting tension in her psoas and spinal extensor muscles. This:

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is the resting position (no elastic loads in the muscles) of her body. Kara is a major rib thruster, a habit that shears one vertebrae relative to the ones below and creates a ton of wonky load to the vertebral ligaments and discs. To mask it, she habitually pushes her pelvis out in front and rotates her torso back. Very common in those that “got back.” You don’t have as much back as you think. You’ve really “got front.” As in ribs, out in front.

3. We made over her spinal twist. I explained how she is carrying her rib thrusting into some of the other exercises she is doing to help her spine, like yoga. If she continues to rib thrust while she twists, then what she is doing to “help” is really doing additional harm. These are her new twisting guidelines:

Guideline 1: Eliminate the thrust of the rib cage before beginning a twist. This means the head, neck and shoulders should be bolstered with a blanket or two (or seventeen) to keep the rib cage in line with the neutral pelvis. This eliminates the shear and places the vertebrae and musculature in an orientation best suited for torsional loading.

Guideline 2: Twist only go as far as you can without taking the ribs with you, no “forcing it” allowed. This ensures she stays on the “edge” of the boundary set by her current abdominal muscle tension.

(P.S. Rib cage bolstering is also part of my “diastasis recti” recommendation. Before you do any motion of the trunk, get rid of vertebral shear!)

This is Kara bolstered to the point that the back of her ribs rested comfortably on the floor.

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And this is her twisting after finding a neutral spine.

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Without the bolsters, you could fit an entire fleet of Matchbox cars under her lower ribcage when she was supine.

Kara’s musculoskeletal issues are manifesting and disc and hip labrum degeneration, but the reason she keeps loading her body excessively at these points has a lot to do with immobility of her upper body — a very tense shoulder girdle and neck.

Her habitual stance to stay upright despite body tension pulling her forward does just as much (if not more) tissue damage than her high-intensity/high-load exercise. This is one of the reasons taking an athlete off of exercise doesn’t always heal a problem. You’ve got to get rid of the body’s adaptation to a training pattern as well. This is where movement vitamins come in.

4. Upper body “nutrition”: Super Supple Shoulders (a lecture and movement class to learn how shoulder tension is masked by rib cage displacement) and a 25-minute neck and shoulder mobilizing session. You can take the shoulder “Alignment Snack” class she’s doing for free. The class explains more than I can in a post (click here — it’s at the top of the page. Update or change browsers if you can’t get it to play.) and FYI, this just in from Kara: “Oh. My. God. Seriously. I could hardly do any of it. That was one of the hardest hour workouts ever.” <—- This woman is a triathlete, peeps. Restoring your body is no joke. Just because it’s gentle doesn’t mean it is easy.

5. Lower body “nutrition”: The Pelvic List.

One of the reason Kara’s trunk is so tight is that she has almost zero lateral hip strength. Don’t get me wrong, the woman is a buff rock star and can outrun a ton of people. But she’s done it recruiting almost nothing in her glutes and lateral thighs. After years of local — to the lateral hip — atrophy, the hip and vertebral joints have broken down. Her gait pattern to date has depended almost entirely on her psoas, quads and quadratus lumborum and she’s got the resting body position (tense spine, sheared vertebrae and chronic hip flexion) to show for it.

Kara has been walking to replace her running, but now her new walking (using the lateral hip muscles) will replace her old walking (not using the lateral hip muscles). She’s just dialed her body a step closer to moving well.

You can read about the session from Kara’s perspective here (click). I’m going to go do some laundry. Not.

Are you still interested in learning more on this?

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18 thoughts on “Mother Thruster

  1. Yea.. I’m not going to go do laundry Also!
    Love it!! I totally look like Kara in the pic where you had her stack hips over ankles .. All bent over! It kinda freaks me out a little .. Or if I back my ribs to a wall how hunched I am… FrEAKs me out!

  2. Thanks for sharing this. 🙂 There is so much good information on your website, and I am using it to help rehab myself after a difficult pregnancy with major pelvic issues.

  3. Katy, If I may. I would like to point out something about the bolstered spinal twist shown in this post, which I haven’t tried yet. For those of us with cervical spine injuries and disc herniations, spinal twisting presents a significant challenge (mechanically and psychologically). In my case, keeping the head and cervical spine in line with my sternum (on a block or firm pillow), rib cage downward rotation (ASIS and 10th rib in line), and backing WAY off the knee to the floor is essential. While what I just described it might not be all together biomechanically correct, it is psychologically approachable when recovering from this kind of injury. Also, I am having a really hard time getting past the picture of mamma sweats’ head position with a twist on top of that. That looks pretty scary to me becuase disc herniations (at all levels) usually go posteriorly and consequently can result in spinal cord impingements and brachial or lumbar plexus nerve root impingement ( <— to be avoided at all costs).

    1. Theresa,
      I’m a bit confused at your comment. The twist is a load occurring at the trunk only. Because most cervical herniations are compounded by hyperkyphysosis, if the kyphosis is not bolstered, there is a greater load to the tissues you mention, not less. Keeping your head in line with your sternum is idea, but only if you have the range of motion to do it — which Kara does not. The bolstering matches her current achievable curve in her cervical and t-spine. The need for a SCM release (aka the “northern” psoas) is needed, but to do it in conjunction with a twist would be inappropriate. There is no rotation happening N of the ribcage, so the load to the cervical spine is mooted (is that a word?) by the bolstering I’ve had her do here. And yes, the second modification is to twist only to her physiological boundary set by muscle tension. Waaaaay less than what most people twist! -KAB

      1. Oh, also wanting to clarify: The position of her head relative to her sternum is currently set by her muscles, not by the way she’s been bolstered. What I would prefer to a block would be something softer that had finer graduating points. By resting in this position her SCM would start releasing right away, which would warrant a lower “setting.” A Nike-style “pump it up” (or down) bolstering system would be ideal!!

  4. Thank you for the bolstered twist photo. It made me realize that I was still rib thrusting in my previous way of doing this, even though I “thought” my ribs were down. I have been working this variation since you posted the “sneak peak” photo of it in combination with the Twist alignment snack and am making progress! Love learning new layers to my alignment! You rock.

  5. Katy,
    Which of your ALigment snacks would you recommend for the psoas? One that goes in lign with the others listed above. I have bought the hip DVD and done the free supple shoulder snack. My psoas are HUGELY problematic. And as a massage/bodywork therapist I am flexed all day!

    Thanks!
    Tina

  6. So, let’s say that I’m like Kara–how am I supposed to stand in public? Or just in general? Shift my weight as best I can while still remaining upright?

    Also, I’m feeling a lot of tension in my pelvic list area when I’m trying to shift my weight back–is this the way it should be?

    I’m loving this series–thank you!

  7. Thanks Katy, I will take some time to digest your response. I think you meant “muted”. I guess what I was really trying to convey, and not well done obviously, is that even when only the trunk rotates, the load (that I feel) is translated in a major (and not good way) to my cervical spine. I totally agree re: the SCMs and hyperkyphosis are a major player in all that. Addressing hyperkyphosis and SCM release is challenging at this point due to some strong holding patterns that have set in, and inability to tolerate any cervical massage. Back to the basics for sure…it all seems simple but its not.
    ps: small stuffed animals work well for gentle SCM release @ my house; and they make me smile.

  8. What about rib thrusting when sleeping? I’m a back sleeper and I’m a recovering rib thruster–thanks to you. Should you prop yourself up so don’t rib thrust while you sleep? Seems like a bad idea to be in a position where you are rib thrusting for 6-7 hours at a time. I’m also have a disastasis which I’m trying to heal so I’d love to get rid of any bad habits that contribute to it, which I know rib thrusting does.

  9. Since you’re on a Mac, you can take screenshots really easily and don’t actually have to take pictures of your monitor. (Which looks kinda podunk.) Just open up Preview, click File -> Take Screenshot, and then pick how you want to do it. It looks a lot clearer, and is easier since you don’t have to transfer the pics from your phone to your computer.

  10. This was a great post! But it pains me to see you take photos of your computer with a camera. Just take a screen shot–you’ll get much higher quality images. Just click “print screen” on your keyboard, or use the Snippet tool (If either of those don’t work, just google for more instructions).

    Is it possible to purchase Skype sessions with you? I’d love one!

  11. Everytime I read a post I realize how much more I need to learn! I recently bought the DVD set. And then I moved and now I can’t find them! They’re here somewhere. I do feel so much better when I do your exercises! This post really helps because when I try to stack my hips I feel like I’m going to fall backwards. Thank you for being you!!

  12. You’re a genius! Think I’ve just had a eureka moment! I just read this and did the alignment snack for twists and discovered that I’ve been rib thrusting during what I fondly believed were twists but appear to really be rolls…but when I do the twists and keep my ribs down, I only feel it in my hip. I feel no stretch whatsoever in my torso since I can only twist my hips very slightly before my ribs come up off the ground. The twist is so slight that the weight of my leg doesn’t assist in furthering the twist either. I know trying to leverage myself further by straining isn’t a good idea however I feel nothing in the torso during the twist (apart from surprise that everything between my ribs and my pelvis appears to be frozen in place!). Are there any modifications you can suggest for those of us who are in the early stages of fossilization?

  13. Awesome post. Awesome lens filter. This was super helfpul- especially the pictures of the modified spinal twist.

  14. I’m confused…So, what is Kara supposed to do in #2 after she’s all bent over? I have to stand just that way in order to keep my hips over knees over heels with my pelvis neutral and without lifting my kneecaps. So, what’s the next step to becoming upright?

      1. 🙁 I thought that was the only thing I didn’t need to work on! 🙂 Ok, got it – on my to-do list! And, by the way, I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now (and the book)…thank you thank you thank you thank you so much for all the information you share.

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