Cycling is an activity that places significant postural demands on the body. Performed in a “sitting posture”, these demands mimic those placed on the “sitting” population in general. Incidents of reported neck and shoulder pain range from 20% - 76% in both cyclists and the general population.
As Spinning® Instructors we have an opportunity to coach students toward pain free cycling/living by focusing on not only proper bike set up, but on proper breathing, postural alignment, mobility, stability and strengthening of the thoracic spine.
Previously I spoke of the importance of a functioning diaphragm in providing core stability (details here). The pain associated with dysfunctional breathing patterns is caused by trigger points in the upper-thoracic and cervical spine soft tissues. These are caused by the overuse of secondary respiratory muscles in the presence of an under used diaphragm. These trigger points can refer pain to the shoulder and neck, so proper use of the diaphragm is critical to both health and performance. The great neurologist Karel Lewit said, “If breathing is not normalized, no other movement pattern can be.”
Proper breathing is definitely an important first step for reducing neck and shoulder pain - however if the muscles of the thorax are tight and or weak we cannot fully expand the diaphragm and therefore can’t breathe well. A concurrent thoracic spine mobility program must be pursued if we want to reduce pain and enhance performance.
Enter 38-year-old Sue Falsone, physical therapist and athletic trainer, and the only female ever to hold the title of head athletic trainer (LA Dodgers) in major professional sports. Because of her knowledge, Sue is known as the Queen of the T-Spine by her peers. She presented a great lecture on the thoracic spine for Movementlectures.com.
Below are exercises from that lecture and from Gray Cook (Functional Movement.com) which can assist your students with regaining thoracic mobility and improving their breathing no matter what the origin.
Breathing Exercise to Mobilize the T-Spine:
- Get into child's pose with your arms resting at your side. This position limits your ability to breathe into your belly and will encourage you to expand your breath into the back ribs.
- Take 5 good long breaths.
- Try to expand the ribs on the inhale, and on the exhale, close the ribs
Videos - Self-Myofascial Release of the T-Spine
Gray Cook - Thoracic Mobilization/Stabilization
So whether neck and shoulder pain is from a breathing or a thoracic spine dysfunction (or both!) we should address both to enhance performance and well -being - enjoy!