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By Pamela Kihm, GCFP
Most of us grew up calling the bony structure that surrounds and protects the heart and lungs a “rib cage” but, is it constructed to be more of a cage or a basket? This is a very fundamental question because if you truly think of your thorax as a “cage,” you might move with more rigidity. Terminology can affect our perception and performance. Specifically, let’s think about how this terminology could affect the comfort of your shoulders:
Select a chair that has a firm seat and no arm rests. Sit in that chair with your feet flat on the floor, a comfortable distance apart.
Imagine for the moment that your thorax really is a bone-bolted-to-bone “cage” as you reach up to the ceiling with your right arm. Notice how high you can reach when you pretend to have a rib “cage.” Allow your shoulders and arms to rest, but don’t slouch.
With your shoulders and arms relaxed let your ribs fold (collapse) by bending to the left and then to the right. You can do this because, in the front of you, your ribs are connected to your sternum (breastbone) with movable cartilage. In the back of you, your ribs are jointed to individual movable vertebrae.
Gently alternate side-to-side several times. This is sort of like a slinky toy making an arc down a stair. Allow the shoulder to follow downward as that side folds, then allow the other shoulder to follow downward as the other side folds.
You may even discover that the top of your head follows the folding to one side and then the other because your ribs are jointed to your spine and your spine extends up under your skull. Could you do this if your thorax really was a rib “cage?”
Now, remaining as relaxed as possible without slouching, allow the left side of your rib “basket” to fold to the left as you reach up with your right arm. Notice that as the left side of your rib basket folds to the left, and your left shoulder rides downward, your right shoulder rides upward. As the left side of your rib basket folds, the right side opens up. Notice how high you can reach.
Alternate between (1) reaching up to the ceiling with your right arm without the ribs helping; and (2) allowing both shoulders to be relaxed as you reach toward the ceiling with your right arm while allowing the right side of your rib basket to fan open as the left side of your rib basket folds. Notice how high you can reach in each case.
Place your middle three fingertips on the front of the lowest part of your sternum. The bottom of your sternum is located where your ribs “V” up around your diaphragm. Your rib basket can fold and open side-to-side even more if you allow your sternum to be moved on a diagonal by the action of your ribs.
As your ribs fold on the left side, encourage the bottom of your sternum to slide a bit to the right. As your ribs fold on the right side, encourage the bottom of your sternum to slide a bit to the left. So you can feel the difference, fold your rib basket side-to-side without your sternum moving. Do this a few times.
As you reach up with your right arm, allow the bottom of your sternum to slide to the right while your ribs on the right side fan open and the ribs on left side fold. Notice how high you can reach now.
This article contains excerpts from Pamela’s second book, titled, “Pain-Free Choices For Those With Osteoarthritis.”