by Jeffrey H. Tucker, DC, DACRB
Thoracic kyphosis associated with myofascial pain syndrome is a common clinical complaint. The objective of this article is to describe and discuss management of patients with thoracic kyphosis and associated myofasical pain syndrome using the Deep Muscle Stimulator device and exercise. Thoracic kyphosis is a very common dysfunction, especially as we get older. Sitting in a slumped posture coupled with a sedentary lifestyle can cause and perpetuate kyphosis and myofascial pain. As with most health conditions, prevention of kyphosis is easier than reversing the condition.
Problems occur when the kyphotic curve becomes increased and is associated with stiffness. The thoracic spine is naturally the stiffest section of the spine, because of the rib attachments forming the costotransverse and costovertebral joints. The two main planes of movement are flexion/extension and rotation. The upper thoracic spine has a very important relationship to the neck, scapula and shoulders. The mid thoracic spine has an important relationship with the diaphragm. The costal part of the diaphragm has slips of muscle arising from the internal surfaces of the inferior six ribs and their costal cartilages, interdigitating with the slips of the transverse abdominus.
The thoracolumbar junction has a very important relationship to the lower back. It is important to assess exactly where in the thoracic spine stiffness is taking place. Stiffness in the upper back with a rounded shoulder appearance is often associated with myofascial pain syndrome in the upper and middle trapezius, rhomboids, pectorals, and levator scapulae muscles. These muscles often feel very tight and overactive. Muscle dysfunction in this area can be from lower trapezius and/or serratus anterior muscle deficiency, muscle tension, muscle inhibition and myofascial trigger points.
The Deep Muscle Stimulator (DMS) developed by Dr. Jake Pivaroff, a chiropractor, (DrJake@D-M-S.com) is a hand held electric motorized device that provides brisk vibration and percussion in rapid succession. To the client it feels like strong vibration. Like manipulation, the DMS influences mechanoreceptor stimulation which may inhibit pain, relax hypertonic muscles, and restore proper motion to restricted spinal joints. The DMS can be used as a stand alone treatment or in conjunction with any other modality or mobilization/manipulation technique. It is especially useful for neuro-myofascial techniques, and pre- or post-manipulation therapy.
The author is currently using the DMS in conjunction with Neuromobilization Techniques as well. The DMS technique causes mechanical contraction of muscle and is performed to treat neuromusculoskeletal conditions. The DMS device is especially useful for covering the entire surface of the back. The brisk vibration and percussion delivered by the device provides pressure and force to overcome the density of the erector muscles, spinous ligaments and thoracolumbar fascia.
I can cover more surface area using the DMS, be more thorough and faster, than using hands alone. Although the patient usually reports feeling relaxed, the device has a stimulating effect upon the nerve receptors. A vibratory sensation is conveyed from the site of application on the body that travels outward for 2-4 inches or further, depending on the patients’ density. Latent trigger points, taut bands and/or tender spots that were not felt by the patient will often be revealed with a sensation when stimulated by the DMS, thus allowing these spots to be worked out.
The body tissues directly influenced by the Deep Muscle Stimulator (DMS) are the skin, the fascia, the muscular system, lymphatic system, and the nervous system. The glandular, digestive, and bony systems are indirectly influenced. In cases of numbness or tingling, this vibration will have a benumbing effect which will react in a sedative manner. Like ischemic compression techniques, the DMS will reduce trigger point sensitivity found in muscle, tendon, periosteum, ligament and skin.
By reflex action through the sensory nerves in the skin a sedative effect is produced by DMS. The muscles and soft tissues are bound together by the deep and superficial fascia, the viscous, gel-like ground substance, and layers of many large and small blood vessels. Metabolites and toxins can become stored in the connective tissues and the DMS will increase vasodilation, allowing tissues to receive adequate fresh amounts of oxygen and nutrients. This process will remove waste byproducts to facilitate tissue recovery and repair. DMS can be lightly used over swollen joints in order to send on through the blood stream the broken down products of inflammation.
Specific treatment for thoracic kyphosis will include manipulation of hypomobile joints and DMS used over the soft tissues. Using the device can be performed in a stroking nature, in which the surface of the device is used lightly or with deeper stroking over the paraspinal musculature. The device provides a deep kneading as well as stroking. Holding the device slightly off the skin to provide light stroking is used in the early stages of treatment or when deeper stroking cannot be tolerated by the client. Light stroking, even in its lightest form, has definite therapeutic effects.
The device is used with a firm, even pressure either in a transverse or circular manner. A definite amount of body surface should be decided upon by the operator before using the DMS. For example, thorough stroking of the gastrocnemius/Achilles tendon and/or the hamstring muscle may be required to release tension that is causing a patient to curl forward contributing to thoracic kyphosis .
Deep Muscle Stimulator Technique for Kyphosis
Changing the relationships among the bones in an abnormal kyphotic spine requires changing the tensional balance through the soft tissues and actively moving the spine. To perform this procedure, the doctor will use the DMS device along the erector spinae muscles while the client performs active motion. Ask your client to stand close to a counter top so their hands can easily rest on the counter top and be used as a support. An alternate position is to have the client sit on a stool or the edge of a treatment table making sure the feet are grounded on the floor.
Have the client assume a “tall spine” posture. Instruct your client to drop the chin toward the chest until a comfortable stretch is felt. Allow the weight of the forehead to carry the thoracic spine into flexion one vertebrae at a time. Complete thoracic flexion and simultaneously treat the paraspinal muscles with the DMS. Instruct the client to curve in the opposite direction, maintain moving the DMS along the paraspinal muscles. Maintain the pressure of the DMS as the client opens into hyperextension at the thoracic spine.
Different forms of mobilization can be used with the DMS, coupled with passive and or active movements to joints. Manual stretching of myofascial trigger points, manual stretching of tissue and muscle fascia, and manual separation of connective tissue can be performed while the operator is using the DMS over the involved tissue.
An office visit using the DMS device can include both manipulation of the joints and soft tissues, or without movements to the joints as a stand alone treatment with its own physiologic effects to the soft tissues. The DMS prevents or breaks down adhesions if tissues are bruised, matted, or thickened. DMS has a reflex action upon the nervous system by affecting the peripheral sensory nerves. The dry rubbing over the back extensors is often associated with muscular contractions and when the treatment is stopped there is an obvious elevation of the local skin temperature. Patients appreciate that oil or lotion does not have to be applied.
The types of exercises can be broken up into two categories.
First, range of movement exercises aimed at increasing movement of the many joints that make-up the thoracic spine. Flexibility exercises into rotation, flexion and particularly extension are essential. I find the most useful exercise, is to use a high density foam roller, laying it cross the spine in the stiff hypomobile areas, knees bent up and then arching back over it as the most useful flexibility exercise.
The foam roll is used as an inhibitory technique to release tension and/or decrease activity of overactive neuro-myofascial tissues in the thoracic spine. The foam roll provides a very good maintenance flexibility routine and is best performed before stretching as a way to mobilize the joints. Other flexibility exercises that are important are stretches for the pectorals and latissimus dorsi. The static latissimus stretch is accomplished with the client on all fours with one arm outstretched, the hand and forearm on a stability ball. Tightness through here can often pull the shoulders forward and increase the kyphosis.
If someone is stiff and rounded through the thoracic spine, the upper trapezius, rhomboids and levator scapulae muscles are often very tight and overactive. The DMS can be used over these muscles as well as over the latz and pectoralis muscles.
The second group of exercises are to improve muscle tone and endurance and thus posture. The better the muscles are at holding the thoracic spine in correct posture, the less stiff the thoracic spine will become. Key muscle groups are the lower trapezius, serratus anterior and thoracic erector spinae.
Gym based exercises that improve kyphosis are back extension, bent over row and diagonal cable pulls. Performing isolated strengthening is a technique used to increase intramuscular coordination of specific muscles. With the chest on a stability ball and both toes touching the ground, the letters ‘Y’, ‘T’, ‘W’ and ‘L’ can be performed with the arms. Make sure you have your feet on the ground and if required have the feet up against a wall, lay face down with the swiss ball positioned under your chest and stomach. You have to hold your thoracic spine extended while feeling like you are pushing your chest out, pulling the shoulders and scapulae away from your ears (“down and back”). Then make the letters with your arms and hold each position for two breaths. These postural stabilization exercises on the ball can be performed 3-5 days per week. One to two sets of 10-15 repetitions is suitable.
Abnormal kyphosis treatment objectives are: to decrease pain, strengthen weak muscles, decrease mechanical stress on spinal structures, improve fitness levels, induce intersegmental motion, improve posture and improve overall mobility.
In summary, assess the client’s posture for dorsal kyphosis. Observe the thoracic spine during arm raising and lowering. Does the spine straighten or not? Apply manipulation to fixed segments, provide Deep Muscle Stimulator device over thoracic paraspinal muscles with active range of motion, instruct client in corrective exercises.
Example Exercise Prescription for Kyphosis
- Give patient advise on proper posture while sitting and standing. Teach clients to perform a sternal lift and “tall spine”.
- Train proper respiration.
- Deep Muscle Stimulator over the entire back.
- Mobilization/manipulation of hypomomobile/fixed joints in the thoracic spine and ribs.
- Foam roll at home (daily).
- Stretch/lengthen the latissimus dorsi, upper trapezius, subscapularis, pectoralis (daily).
- Perform isolated exercises to the lower trapezius and serratus anterior.
- Perform integrated exercises: lunge to overhead press with free weights in the hands.
by Jeffrey H. Tucker, DC, DACRB
Judith is a 59-year-old female who consistently comes to my twice-weekly exercise classes. I train and teach clients in everything from low-load exercises to multiplanar lunges; from bands to balance training; from exercise sticks to Swiss balls; and from plyos to kettlebells.
Jude, as I affectionately like to call her, also occasionally chooses to come to my office for a session when she is in pain. Her usual areas of discomfort are in the upper back/lower neck area or the lumbopelvic region. Jude also comes to see me when she feels like she is “off” regarding her posture or her workouts. Sometimes she comes to me because something in her workout hurts her, or because she notices after sitting for long periods during the day (hunched over a computer) or in a vehicle, that she has become really stiff and tight. On this particular day, it was Jude’s lumbopelvic region that bothered her.
Jude is no ordinary lady. She is health conscious, a savvy business woman, a smart consumer, and appreciates that specialization of treatment for care is the key to progress. Jude likes what I have to offer (and is willing to pay out of pocket): small-group exercise classes, diet and nutrition recommendations, soft-tissue and joint-therapy choices, cutting-edge knowledge and experience.
I have taught Jude how to use the foam roll for self myofascial release, how and what muscles to stretch for her overactive muscles, and drilled technical proficiency in all of her exercises. So I was surprised when Jude presented to my office and I discovered she had the same tightness in her calves and hamstrings (biceps femoris) that I noticed in her previous treatment three months earlier. I thought I had given her the recipe for relief on the prior visit: daily use of the foam roll at home, stretching, specific low-load exercises, and continuation of my exercise class, in which I have been teaching kettlebell training (high-load, whole-body exercises).
If I could interview the calf and hamstring muscles what would they say? Why was Jude experiencing overactive calf and hamstring muscles despite the fact that she told me she was using the foam roll, and stretching her calves and hamstrings. I was certain she was doing whole-body exercises because I was there to instruct her.
The “muscle whisperer” in me knew something was wrong or missing here. I did a checkup of her feet and gait analysis. Nothing obvious jumped out at me. I had her perform the “arms overhead” squat test. This movement observation revealed the feet turning outward very slightly as she descended into the squat. The second toe had moved outward about 20 degrees from a line drawn straight down from the center of the tibia. I also observed the heels rise during the squat decent. The “arms overhead” squat evaluation confirmed overactivity of the soleus and gastrocnemius muscles.
I also observed that her low back was rounding very slightly when she performed the “arms overhead” squat. This indicates overactivity of the hamstrings, especially of biceps femoris muscle.
Why were her same muscles still tight? I was concerned because I know that if your calves or hamstrings are in the “on” position all the time (meaning they don’t know when to lengthen) and they don’t allow the ankles to dorsiflex, or the hips to hinge properly, you will bend from the back instead, and eventually develop other compensations that lead to discomfort, pain or injury. Jude was paying me to figure this stuff out and help keep her injury free.
I reviewed the corrective exercise treatment strategy equation:
- Inhibit the overactive muscles.
- Lengthen the overactive muscles.
- Isolate and activate the underactive muscles.
- Perform whole-body integrated exercises.
For the inhibition part of the equation, muscles can to be treated using foam roll, ischemic compression, instrument-assisted soft-tissue techniques, deep muscle stimulator or any other technique. For each muscle that requires inhibition and lengthening, there is often an opposing muscle that needs specific low-load isolated exercises to activate it. Activation refers to the stimulation (or re-education) of underactive myofascial tissue.
Here lies the explanation for what I did that made a change in Judith’s recurrent muscle overactivity: Not all muscles have a clear singular role. But all muscles have both slow (tonic) and fast (phasic) motor units. Certain muscles are more tonic and respond to too much loading or too much inactivity by getting and staying shorter. The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) refers to this condition as “overactive.” Examples of tonic muscles are the hamstrings, the adductors and the hip flexors. The phasic muscles such as the middle/lower trapezius, gluteus medius and anterior tibialis are prone to getting weak and stretched out with too much or too little use. The NASM calls these muscles “underactive.” Altered muscle lengths go back to the length-tension relationship.
If the calves (soleus, gastrocnemius) are overactive, it is likely that their functional antagonist muscles (posterior tibialis) are underactive. If the biceps femoris are overactive, it is likely that the gluteus maximus/minimus is underactive.
Judith was doing everything right except she was missing one important part of the equation. A corrective exercise program that stretches the short muscle, such as the hamstring, does not concurrently shorten the lengthened muscle, such as the lumbar back extensors. Corrective exercise therapy needs to shorten the elongated muscle while simultaneously stretching the short muscle.
The keys to preventing and alleviating spinal dysfunction are: have the trunk muscles hold the vertebral column and pelvis in their optimal alignments; and prevent unnecessary movement. To achieve these goals, the muscles must be the correct length and strength and be able to produce the correct pattern of activity. The new treatment plan for Jude was to perform everything she was doing, with the addition of the following:
- specific exercises to isolate the anterior/posterior tibialis muscles;
- low-load exercise retraining the hip extension pattern;
- single-leg Romanian dead lifts for the gluteus maximus/minimus muscles; and
- prisoner squats for ankle mobility, calf lengthening, hip flexion, and gluteal strength.
- After only three weeks of care, Jude showed tremendous improvement.
- Comerford M. Lumbo-Pelvic Stability. Course notes.
- National Academy of Sports Medicine. Corrective Exercise Specialist. Course notes.
by Jeffrey H. Tucker, DC, DACRB
*This article was submitted to DC on 1-20-07. Accepted for publication 2-27-07. Printed May 2007.
Movement assessments have become a clear and comprehensive evaluation and approach to my Chiropractic therapy. It begins with me looking at each clients standing posture. I then ask my client to perform a series of postures. You know this portion as ‘range of motion’ evaluation. For example, I say to the client, “Bring your chin to your chest”, etc., or “bend forward to touch your fingers to the floor” or “raise both arms over your head” bla bla bla! It is old school, but I realize I need to document how far they move and if any sensations present themselves. I have become a keen observer of these movements, one who is not just interested in how far they move, but more interested in the way they move and what there movement pattern can tell me. The evaluation continues with a series of dynamic and static postures to observe how the muscles and joints move. Through this process I generate a sequence of home exercise programs for my clients. Please realize, the movement assessments can be performed prior to any hands on work that you do, or the assessments can conclude with a mobilization or manipulation that you feel is necessary.
If you have read my previous articles you will know that I start with the squat assessment. Observe the client perform a squat several times. Simple say “Let me see you do a squat with your arms out in front of you.” The benchmarks that I look for on this evaluation are that the:
- Upper torso is parallel with the tibia or toward vertical (back is relatively upright).
- Femur below horizontal.
- Knees aligned over feet.
- Toes point forward.
- Knees don’t turn in.
If they cannot accomplish the above criteria I start the correction process with the following training: I call this the supine120 degree knee to chest maneuver. Client lays supine in the 90/90 position. The knees are over the hips and the legs are parallel to the floor. Doctor stands at the feet of the client and uses a knife edge contact along the clients ankle crease. The Doctor resists at the ankle crease while the client is instructed to “pull your knees to your chest.” The Doctor allows the client to move into a knee to chest position. The doctor is providing resistance, not overpowering the client. The client’s lumbar region should remain in the neutral spine. Instruct the client to focus using the lower abdominals, especially the area slightly above and below the inguinal region. Allow the hips to get to at least 120 degrees. This maneuver is a great way to get clients to re-awaken this area. Bring awareness of tightness to this area while you tell the client to release tension or resistance in other areas such as the neck or shoulders that are not needed for this maneuver. Repeat this maneuver as many times to client tolerance.
The next progression is a pose called ‘Find your stance’. This is used as a foundation of all standing postures and movements. I want this to become the natural way to stand. It cultivates a sense of strength and stability. Begin with your feet (shoes off) between your hips and shoulders – go with what feels natural and comfortable. Slightly angle your feet outwards with your weight evenly spread through the balls, lateral edge and heel. Avoid your arches collapsing inwards. Try to feel the medial and longitudinal arches lift up.
Assisted Squats: Doctor and client face each other. ‘Find your stance’, or spread feet to shoulder width or slightly wider if needed; client holds arms and hands out in front of there body; Doctor holds hands with client and assists client to squat. The command is “pull your butt down.” The Doctor is providing assistance so the client doesn’t fall down. However, the client may fall to the floor the first or second time and that is perfectly normal and O.K. to do. Simple get back up and attempt it again. The idea is to allow them to go as deep as possible. Get the client to engage the groin crease muscles to pull them down. The goal of doing this squat is to reach back with the buttocks and down, ex. Sit back on a chair with control. If you have a rope or Theraband (at least the strength of a black theraband), you can wrap it around the clients back and underarms while you hold the ends in the front of the client and ask then to “sit down against” that resistance. Doctor coaches the client to keep the back straight, in this case as vertical as possible. FIGURE 1 Rubber tubing under the arm pits and you assist client to sit down against this resistance. The knee should not bow inward.
“Pull the hips out of the socket” routine to squat. This maneuver requires two assistant partners (the doctor plus an assistant). The client is instructed to squat down in a wider than shoulder stance. The Doctor is to the left of the client and the assistant on the right side. Each assistant places one flat hand behind the posterior leg just below the knee crease. The other hand is placed in the inguinal fossa/ligament crease with a knife edge contact. Assistants use enough pressure to guide the client into a deeper squat. Ask the client to feel like they are pulling the hips out of the socket as they descend. This allows the client to understand and feel the proper joints and muscles to use to accomplish this squat. Allow the client to learn in a wide stance and go as low as they can. As they improve strength they can get into a more narrow stance. Less core muscle is required in a wide stance than a narrow stance. Repeat this maneuver several times. Do a simple test on yourself. Stand in a wide stance and go narrower and narrower until you are in a one legged stance. Feel how the core is participating. Eventually we will get clients to have there feet closer and closer together and this will demand greater core strength.
Right after this maneuver, it will help your client if the Doctor rubs his/her index fingers along the spinous processes while the client does several more squats. This is performed starting at approximately the middle of the back with both index fingers. At the same time rub one finger headward and the other caudal along the spinous process while the client squats down and up. While you rub the spine, instruct the client to stay in a “tall spine” posture. They need to imagine creating more room in the hip socket. Tell the client to think of one thing and only one thing on the way up and that is “gluteals.” You don’t need to suck the stomach in if you elongate the spine, it will automatically come in if they are working to resist extension.
Squat against the wall. This is such a new take on the old school method of a wall squat. Once a person can accomplish the “static wall squat” also known as the “wall sit”, “wall chair,” “airbench” or “back against the ball squat” for one minute, they are ready for this maneuver. Find the distance away from the wall so that when you squat down your sacrum stays in contact with the wall. The key is to keep the sacrum touching the wall. Squat down with arms on the inside of the thighs until the elbows can push against the inner thighs. Put your hands in a prayer pose and push the elbows against the inner thighs. Pry the hips apart as you wiggle side to side going lower and lower. Continue this gentle rocking side to side and attempt to go lower and lower opening the hips. You should feel this in the most proximal attachments of the adductor muscles and hamstrings. Hold this pose for as long as you can and then concentrate on getting back up using the gluteals and keeping the sacrum in contact with the wall. Try this maneuver several times. One minute in this pose really gets you feeling warm. Attempt this with a narrow stance compared to when you are away from the wall. The next progression is to repeat the squat away from the wall.
PIVOTS: These help open the hips. Standing with your feet more than 3 feet apart, with outstretched arms (abduction) to your sides away from the body (the feet should be under the wrists distance). The feet will need to be angled slightly outward approximately 15 degrees. Keep the torso facing forward. Lunge gentle to the left until your knee is bent in a right angle above your left foot. Lengthen the spine upward (“tall spine” concept). Move side to side going more and more lateral (lower). The opposing forces of your legs provide balanced stability. Don’t lean the body towards the bent knee, try to keep the torso upright as much as possible. Imagine the hands pulling further side to side. Allow the sitting bone to be pulled backwards. The legs, both pushing forwards and pulling backwards, allow the hip to hinge and become stable at the same time, two opposing forces balancing one another. Shoulder blades should be kept down.
I recommend clients practice these maneuvers daily. I want my clients to observe subtle changes in posture, decreased pain, increased range of motion, feelings of stability, and a greater capacity for work and sport. As individuals vary in strength, flexibility, and coordination so the practice of functional exercises will be unique to each individual. Using progressive movement as assessments in your practice will tell you where the client is strong or weak, symmetrical or asymmetrical, balanced or imbalanced, coordinated or incoordinated, and which areas need more practice.
- Bergmark A 1989 Stability of the lumbar spine. A study in mechanical engineering. Acta Orthopaedica Scandinavia 230(60):20-24.
- Caterisano A, Moss RF, Pellinger TK, Woodruff K, Lewis VC, Booth W, Khadra T. The effect of back squat depth on the EMG activity of 4 superficial hip and thigh muscles. J Strength Cond Res 2002 Aug; 16(30: 428-32
- Comerford M 2003 and 2006 Lumbo-pelvic Stability. Course notes. Copyright Comerford.
- Tsatsouline, Pavel 2007 Stretch Course. Copyright Tsatsouline.
- Vermeil A 2005 Sports & Fitness. Course notes. Copyright Vermeil.
- All the coaches, sports medicine, and sports scientists who have shared their knowledge with me.
by Jeffrey H. Tucker, DC, DACRB
Neuromobilization is a technique that details the assessment and analysis of radiculopathy. It involves specific maneuvers for upper and lower extremity sensory disturbances.1 Most musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction represents the result of a failure of adaptation.
It is easy to imagine that nerves can become stuck from disc pathology, lateral canal stenosis, fascial glue or any other structure that wraps, invests, supports, separates, connects, divides or may become sticky. The ground substance can become thick and sticky. It is likely that a nerve can become “held” or “stuck” in an area of ground substance that has become viscous or gel-like, or in areas of inflammation.
Neuromobilization is one of the least invasive therapeutic interventions that can start the healing and repair of radiculopathy. The femoral nerve, sciatic nerve, median nerve, radial nerve and ulnar nerve have lines of pull. Neuromobilization procedures are directed at multiple joints, and it is difficult to determine exactly where the nerve may be stuck.
The techniques are taught with two people simultaneously making the correction on the patient. Since it is not always possible for practitioners to have an assistant available to aid in the correction, I have found that a deep muscle stimulator (DMS) device is extremely useful. The hand-held device provides percussion and concussion vibration that allows specific point pressure to increase circulation and oxygenation to the tissues. The stimulator device will allow the muscle to achieve a new resting length. Fascia is stretched and will change length and hold the new form. The stimulator device also relieves joint irritation and inflammation to the surrounding area and nerve; a fixation or joint stiffness may cause a nerve to be hypomobile and irritated every time it is pulled.
Once the patient is comfortable doing at-home stabilization protocol exercises for the neck and back, it is time for them to progress to more advanced corrective exercises. For example, with the patient relaxed in the centrated side-lying posture, you can use a stimulator device in the sciatic-notch region for sciatic-nerve radiculopathy while the patient is talked through actively moving the top leg into abduction, hip flexion, and foot dorsiflexion/plantarflexion.
Advanced Exercises for the Femoral Nerve
Reverse lunge: Stand with feet hip-width apart in front of a mirror with a resistance band wrapped/tied around the knees. Ensure your lumbar spine is in neutral and your back is tall, with your shoulders back and head up. Slide backward with your right leg and bend your left knee only halfway down. Ensure that your front knee is in line with your toes and your back has remained upright, with your lumbar spine in neutral and your hips level. Allow a stretch in the right iliopsoas muscle region. Push back up with the right leg. Your back should remain totally still and your hips level as you performed the push-back. The idea is to slide your right foot back until your left leg bends at 90 degrees. Slide your right foot up to start position, pulling up with the glute of your left leg. Keeping your abs tight will help you keep balance. Finish all reps on one side and then switch sides. Perform 10-15 reps per side.
Prone hip flexor stretch: Lie prone on the floor with the involved-side knee flexed to 90 degrees. The opposite leg is straight on the floor with both ASIS pressed into the floor. Wrap a resistance band around the bent-knee ankle and grab the other end with both hands. Actively extend the hip and pull on the band so the thigh is raised off the floor. Make sure the ASIS stay in contact with the floor. Hold this for a 30-second count while performing diaphragm breathing. Perform three to five reps.
Resistance-band side walk: Place a resistance band around your ankles. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and get into a small knee-bend position. Step to the side with your left leg, then bring your right leg toward the left leg, but not all the way, so you keep some tension on the band. Continue across the room, stepping out with your left leg. Return to the other side of the room, facing the same way stepping out with your right foot. Make sure the foot doesn’t get out from under the knee. Move five steps to the right and five steps to the left. This can be repeated until felt in the gluteus medius.
- Based on a technique course taught by Dr. Kim Christensen.
by Jeffrey H. Tucker, DC, DACRB
In my experience, I have found it useful to measure internal and external hip rotation in a prone rather than a supine position. I was taught this technique by Mark Comerford in 2006 and use it on a daily basis.
In the prone position with the client on the table or floor, grasp the foot gently, maintain the knee at 90 degrees, and slowly rotate the hip internal and external until you feel resistance. Make sure you are isolating the hip and not allowing pelvic rotation to occur. Take measurement of either excessive or decreased motion. (In Part 1 of this article (Jan. 15, 2009 issue), you will find the description and interpretation of the tests for medial and lateral hip rotation.)
If you find an asymmetry in internal hip rotation in the prone position, you can demonstrate the asymmetry in internal rotation by having the patient perform the “windshield-wiper position” in the supine position. Patient is supine lying in the 90/90 pose with both fists together (thumbs touching each other) between the knees. Slowly move the feet outward while maintaining pressure between the knees. Compare left and right internal rotation. This method should confirm what you find in the prone position, and allows the patient to see and feel any discrepancy.
The importance of proper hip range of motion and motor control is that the hip muscles either stabilize or produce power. During gait, the glutes and hamstrings produce hip extension. When the hamstring muscle is more dominant than the glutes during hip extension, the proximal femur / greater trochanter can create stress on the anterior joint capsule by anteriorly gliding during the hip extension movement. Ideally, the greater trochanter is maintained in the acetabulum by coordination and fine control of the surrounding muscles. Anterior gliding of the proximal femur / greater trochanter is a form of “uncontrolled translation” that can create a friction rub or repetitive microtrauma.
Many structures pass over the anterior femur head, such as the labrum, capsular fibers, bursa and soft tissues. It is reasonable to imagine that dysfunctional muscle control at the hip can cause synovitis, bursitis and soft-tissue contracture. If the iliopsoas is stretched or weak, and is not providing normal restraint on the femur head, the anterior gliding will be worse.
Reviewing the anatomical attachments of the hamstrings provides a plausible reason why hip joint motion becomes altered. The hamstring muscles, with the exception of the short head, do not attach into the femur. They attach to the ischial tuberosity. Because the hamstrings do not attach directly into the proximal femur, they cannot provide precise control of the movement of the proximal end of the femur during hip extension.
The short head of the biceps femoris starts at about the mid femur. It has a continuous origin from the lateral lip of the linea aspera on the posterior surface of the femoral shaft, the upper half of the lateral supracondylar line and from the lateral intermuscular septum. Distally, the long and short head of the biceps femoris give rise to a tendon that inserts into the lateral surface of the fibular head. In my experience, the short head of the biceps femoris is consistently one of the most overactive muscles in the body. The hamstrings simply cannot provide local fine motor control of the femur head.
There is another side to this whole hip movement pattern story. When the gluteus max and piriformis muscles are the prime movers for hip extension, the greater trochanter will either maintain a constant position or move slightly posteriorly.
If your patients experience cramps in the hamstrings during the bridge maneuver, they are overutilizing the hamstring muscle and not firing the glutes properly. If the patient has anterior hip pain while performing the bridge exercise up and down, they may not be controlling the proximal femur / greater trochanter.
Hip/pelvic complex dysfunction, especially the gluteal/hamstring relationship, can further impact the kinetic chain distally, such as excessive femoral medial rotation with respect to the tibia. The knee often gets caught between a dysfunctional hip and/or a dysfunctional ankle. The knee can easily become the site of greater flexibility between the ankle, hip and knee joints. Excessive uncontrolled motion is instability. The ankle has a tendency to lose dorsiflexion, while the hip loses extension.
A likely source of muscle impairment is the concept of relative stiffness/flexibility. One structure increases its flexibility to accommodate the relatively stiffer structure. We don’t always know how the muscular impairment begins, but compensation is normal. The nature of our society forces long-term habitual use patterns. A common muscular impairment starts with recruitment issues of the hip lateral rotators. A weakness or recruitment problem of the hip lateral rotators can lead to the short head of the biceps femoris becoming overactive.
Here is how you check the length of the short head of the biceps femoris: Visual postural analysis will reveal a prominence of the biceps femoris muscle. It will simply look bulged behind the knee. To check the length of the right short head of the biceps femoris muscle, put the client’s right leg in the supine 90/90 position. The left leg is held straight and resting on the table. Try to straighten the right leg. Normal for women is a “straight” raised leg (no bend at the knee). Normal length for men is within 10 degrees of a raised straight leg (10 degrees at the knee). If it is short, they may be using the biceps femoris as the primary lateral rotator of the hip instead of the intrinsic hip lateral rotators – the gemelli, obturators, piriformis and quadratus femoris.
The obvious problem with the biceps femoris muscle becoming the dominant muscle is that it attaches to the mid femur proximally and to the fibula distally, allowing the femur to rotate inward and the tibia/fibula to rotate outward. By eccentrically controlling femoral internal rotation, the hip abductors and external rotators are maintaining stability not only at the hip, but also at the patellofemoral region. Weakness of the hip abductors and external rotators may allow increased femoral medial rotation and valgus knee moments, putting excessive compressive forces on the patellofemoral joint and leading to a diagnosis of patellofemoral pain syndrome.
How many of your patients have had knee surgery without any trauma to the knee? Can you see how this knee problem began from the hip and caused a repetitive microtrauma to the knee? Hip abduction strength is key to movement control.
In order to activate the key stabilizers and prime movers of the hip (glute max, posterior glute med, deep-six rotators), I recommend you train your clients in both low-load exercises and high-load exercises. This will improve the performance of the glute medius and maximus, piriformis, obturator externus and internus, gemellus and quadratus femoris. Here is an example of a hip stability exercise prescription progression:
Side-lying clam progressing to side-lying straight-leg hip abduction (going from short- to long-lever exercises). The hip and knee of the bottom leg should be flexed. The top leg should be in the same alignment, supported on a pillow placed between the knees. The patient slowly rotates the hip of the top leg laterally, being sure not to allow the pelvis to rotate, holds this position for 10 seconds and then returns to the starting position. Repeat for 10 reps. Once the exercise looks and feels easy, progress to the long-lever exercise and repeat the same 10-second holds for 10 reps.
Glute max bridges. Starting with double-feet-on-floor glute raises, progressing to one-leg-at-a-time bridges. For single-leg raises, assume the bridge position, lock the right hip into flexion (knee-chest position, holding the knee inward with both hands); this makes it hard for the patient to hyperextend the lumbar spine, so they use the glutes. Bridge up and down 20 times per side. Keep the hips level and isolate the glutes.
Band walk. Begin with tubing at knees, progress to tubing at ankles. Wrap a band around both knees, slightly externally rotate the hip and walk sideways one leg at a time. Walk six steps left and six steps right. Perform as many sets of six reps per side until the patient feels the targeted glute muscle fatigue.
Single-leg bend-over. This is a deadlift hinging at the hip. Begin with hands on hips, progress to a reach with the hand opposite of stance leg. Progress further to use a dowel or a bar across the shoulders or held horizontal along the spine. Perform 10 reps per side.
- Van Dillen LR, Sahrmann SA, Norton BJ, et al. Reliability of physical examination items used for classification of patients with low back pain. Phys Ther, 1998;78:979.
- Brody LT, Thein JM. Non-operative treatment for patellofemoral pain. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther, 1998;28:336-44.
- Witvrouw E, Lysens R, Bellemans J, et al. Intrinsic risk factors for the development of anterior knee pain in an athletic population. A two-year prospective study. Am J Sports Med, 2000;28:480-9.
- Cesarelli M, Bifulco P, Bracale M. Study of the control strategy of the quadriceps muscles in anterior knee pain. IEEE Trans Rehabil Eng, 2000;8:330-41.
- Fredericson M, Cookingham CL, Chaudhari AM, et al. Hip abductor weakness in distance runners with iliotibial band syndrome. Clin J Sport Med, 2000;10:169-75.
- Comerford M. Lumbo-Pelvic Stability. Course notes.
- NASM Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES) course notes.
by Jeffrey H. Tucker, DC, DACRB
This article explains the importance and purpose of measuring medial and lateral rotation of the hips with the patient in the prone position. Insufficient hip rotation control can cause local hip pain, a pain-producing compensation in the lumbopelvic region or the knees. The ideal range of medial hip rotation motion is approximately 35 degrees (without pelvic rotation). The ideal range of lateral hip rotation is approximately 35 degrees from neutral without pelvic motion.1
I am not as interested in the exact number of degrees of rotation as I am interested in testing for excessive or decreased degrees of the range of rotation. In Shirley Sahrmann’s book Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes, she notes less than 30 degrees of lateral or medial rotation is movement impairment. I am also looking for symmetry or asymmetry of these movements. Evaluating excessive motion and/or decreased range of movement will provide information about the quality of movement at the hips. This is sometimes referred to as neuromotor control or movement coordination.
This evaluation will add another piece of the puzzle to understanding the biomechanics of the lower extremities during physical activities such as gait. It has been my experience that altered movement patterns in the hips may result in alterations of the load distribution across the patellofemoral joint2,3,4 and lumbosacral region,5 causing pain and dysfunction in these areas.
Gathering information about movements is part of a functional examination. Poor quality or altered movement patterns are usually more easily detected when we break down a component of the overall movement (e.g., gait). Recognizing poor hip rotation in the prone position may be easier than recognizing a faulty gait pattern during physical activities. Measuring the hips in a supine position with the hips flexed 90 degrees does not seem as functional as measuring the hips in a prone position with the knees together.
The patient should be in the prone position on a flat table. Stand to the contralateral side of the table, to the side of the hip being examined (stand on the left side of the patient while testing the right hip). Grasp the patient’s foot and passively bend (flex) the knee to 90 degrees. Make sure the knees are together and the thigh is in the neutral position. Slowly move the foot away from you, causing medial rotation of the hip. Evaluate how far the hip moves without moving the pelvis. Is it more than 35 degrees? Is it less than 30-35 degrees? Slowly move the foot toward your body, producing lateral rotation of the hip. Is it more than 35 degrees? Is it less than 30-35 degrees?
Excessive medial rotation of the hip (common): This indicates poor stability (ability to maintain a stabile core and move the extremities) function or excessive length of the hip joint capsule and the lateral rotator stability muscles, posterior gluteus medius and intrinsic hip lateral rotators (piriformis, gemellus superior, obturator internus, gemellus inferior, obturator externus, quadratus femoris).
The gluteus medius arise from the outer surface of the ilium, anterior to the TFL. The muscle converges to form a tendon that attaches to the lateral surface of the greater trochanter. The gluteus medius has fibers that attach forward and posterior of the greater trochanter. The posterior border of the gluteus medius may blend with the piriformis. Together with the glute minimus, the glute medius abducts and medially rotates the hip joint.
Therefore, if the G med is not firing properly, there will be excessive medial rotation at the hip. The glute minimus and medius are fundamental in keeping the trunk in an upright position when the contralateral foot is raised during walking. The hip joint capsule surrounds the acetabulum and neck of the femur. A number of ligament bands help keep the femur and acetabulum in check. The capsule can get tight or become loose.
Excessive lateral rotation of the hip: This indicates either poor stability function or excessive length of the medial rotator stability muscles (anterior gluteus medius and minimus).
Decreased lateral rotation of the hip (common): This includes shortening of capsule and shortening of myofascial structures (TFL/ITB). To differentiate between capsule or TFL, examine the end feel. Take the leg into abduction by 1 inch and if decreased restriction occurs, the TFL/ITB is limiting the movement. If there is no change, the capsule is causing the decreased lateral rotation.
The tensor fascia lata arises from the anterior part of the outer lip of the iliac crest, the lateral aspect of the anterior superior iliac spine and the upper part of the anterior border of the iliac wing. You should keep in mind that in addition to arising from the iliac crest, the iliotibial band (ITB) attaches into the posterior gluteus maximus muscle in the back. The gluteus maximus through the ITB also attaches on the tibia distally.
This is an important point to remember because the TFL/ITB muscle is producing movement of both the proximal and distal aspects of the thigh, which reinforces the maintenance of a relatively constant position of the femoral head in the acetabulum during hip extension. The TFL assists in the flexion, abduction and medial rotation of the hip joint and extension of the knee joint. Use specific muscle length tests to confirm myofascial shortening.
Decreased medial rotation of the hip: This includes shortening of the capsule and myofascial structures (piriformis or superficial fibers of gluteus maximus). The superficial fibers of the gluteus maximus attach proximally to four structures: the thoracolumbar fascia, the iliac crest, the sacrum and the coccyx. They travel distally to the deep part of the muscle and end in a tendinous sheet, which passes lateral to the greater trochanter and is attached to the iliotibial tract of the fascia lata. The iliotibial tract runs down the anterior lateral side of the thigh. It blends with the capsule of the knee joint to attach to Gerdy’s tubercle, the lateral condyle of the tibia and the head of the fibula. Again, poor control at the hip does cause knee dysfunction.
The piriformis arises from the anterior aspect of the second to fourth segment of the sacrum between and lateral to the sacral foramina. Its tendon is attached to the upper border and medial aspect of the greater trochanter. The piriformis laterally rotates the extended hip joint and abducts the flexed hip joint. Differentiate by end feel. Assess specific muscle-length tests to confirm myofascial shortening.
When the glute maximus and piriformis are the dominant muscles producing hip extension, their proximal attachments provide more optimal control of the femur in the acetabulum than do the hamstring muscles. If the attachments of the piriformis and glute maximus muscles are overactive at the femur, they will not provide proper control of the proximal femur during hip extension.
- Van Dillen LR, Sahrmann SA, Norton BJ et al. Reliability of physical examination items used for classification of patients with low back pain. Phys Ther 19998;78:979.
- Brody LT, Thein JM. Nonoperative treatment for patellofemoral pain. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 1998;28:336-44.
- Witvrouw E, Lysens R, Bellemans J, Cambier D, Vanderstraeten G. Intrinsic risk factors for the development of anterior knee pain in an athletic population. A two-year prospective study. Am J Sports Med 2000;28:480-9.
- Cesarelli M, Bifulco P, Bracale M. Study of the control strategy of the quadriceps muscles in anterior knee pain. IEEE Trans Rehabil Eng 2000;8:330-41.
- Fredericson M, Cookingham CL, Chaudhari AM, Dowdell BC, Oestreicher N, Sahrmann SA. Hip abductor weakness in distance runners with iliotibial band syndrome. Clin J Sport Med 2000;10:169-75.
Part 2 of this article, will focus on specific corrective exercises for the hip.
by Jeffrey H. Tucker, DC, DACRB
There is a lot of excitement and “buzz” about kettlebells in the weight room and the rehab setting these days, so I want to make sure everyone is familiar with this valuable piece of fitness equipment. A “kettlebell” or girya is a traditional Russian cast-iron weight that looks like a cannonball or bowling ball with a handle. The kettlebell goes way back: The term first appeared in a Russian dictionary in 1704. So popular were kettlebells in Tsarist Russia that any strongman or weight-lifter was referred to as a girevik or “kettlebell man.”
Kettlebells come in several sizes/weights, from 5 lbs all the way up to 105 lbs. You can do standard weight-training exercises with kettlebells, including bench presses, overhead presses, curls, squats and rows. However, the unique value of kettlebells is derived from ballistic (fast exercise) work such as snatches, swings, cleans and jerks.
For those of you who don’t know me, I really do prescribe exercise in my practice. Exercise is a natural drug. We need to deliver the right drug, at the right dose, at the right frequency to get the right result. Learning to make good exercise selections is purposeful and designed to decrease pain, prevent injury, decrease body fat, and increase lean muscle mass, strength, endurance, flexibility and overall athletic performance. Currently, I am using kettlebells in my small-group exercise classes to achieve the above goals.
I became intrigued by the claims of the advantages of kettlebells, so I decided I wanted to learn how to use them. I met a well-known kettlebell expert and took workshops from him. I also met with Pavel Tsatsouline, the person responsible for popularizing kettlebells in the U.S. He taught me some of his stretching routines. Once I learned about kettlebells, I immediately realized the benefits to my rehab practice.
The All-in-One Workout Tool
Kettlebells develop all-round fitness and teach kinetic linking. For example, the kettlebell “swings” makes the deadlift functional. It gets you connected to the ground, draws energy from the ground and transfers energy through the shoulder. Kettlebells enhance awareness of posture, position, breath and grip.
Here is a short list of workout equipment the kettlebell replaces: barbells, dumbbells, belts for weighted pull-ups and dips, thick bars, lever bars, medicine balls, grip devices and cardio equipment. The good news is you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on expensive equipment. For most of your clients, all you need are two or three kettlebells of varying weights. They do not take up much space, so you can train in a small area. In the office, you can get a great workout in a limited space while improving strength, agility and stamina.
I especially like the cardio benefits clients can get from kettlebells. It’s easy to use interval training principles (go slow, go fast, repeat). I have been teaching a twice-weekly exercise class for the past four years. When I first started the class, we used body-weight exercises, balance balls and bands. Each year since starting the class, I’ve introduced a more challenging tool or device. Last year I added telescopic stick/band training to the class, which provided great variety and core work with bands. In January 2008, I started using kettlebells. The participants in my class are noticing more dramatic changes in body composition from kettlebell training than from anything else we’ve done in the past. Kettlebells develop shoulders, back muscles, arms, forearms, a cut-up midsection and strong legs.
Ballistic kettlebell drills involve a snapping action of the hips, and I have found this movement targets the gluteals better than bridges and are as good as squats. Once my clients can perform 50 consecutive bridges in a variety of poses, they are ready for the kettlebell swings. Whatever rehab techniques you use in your office, I always teach and recommend that you start and concentrate on functional asymmetries (right/left differences). Accumulation of asymmetries over time can lead to significant injury.
Most of us have learned something from the Janda method of movement pattern analysis. Kettlebell exercises are movement-based, not just lifting-based. You’re getting movement training with weight instead of weight training with single-plane movement. We’re not just trying to hypertrophy muscles like a bodybuilder; we’re trying to groove movement patterns throughout the body that are both strong and stable.
For sports, you need explosive hips, stable joints and quick hands. Kettlebell training develops those attributes. Most of the moves are done standing (bilateral or single-leg stance), and many moves are done lying supine. Multi-joint movements comprise most of the drills. Kettlebells complement core stabilization, body-weight exercises and telescopic stick/band exercises. Many are characteristic of work, sports, and activities of daily living. With kettlebells, we don’t need machines, so we have more room in our workout areas!
Building Muscle, Losing Fat
With kettlebells, your clients will build muscular endurance when performing high repetitions, and with proper nutrition they will lose fat. Ballistic exercises are not the only exercises to help accomplish this; the Turkish get-up, press and windmill will develop hard midsections and increase shoulder flexibility and stability. Some of my favorite kettlebell exercises include the clean and press, front squat, renegade row, swings and the double clean (holding a kettlebell in each hand).
I love free weights and try to get most of my clients on a free-weight program, but you really can’t do the above exercises with dumbbells. I think kettlebells are actually more challenging than dumbbells. Kettlebell handles are much thicker and will give you a vice grip in no time. Also, the off-centered weight of a kettlebell will force you to use more stabilizer muscles and work the targeted muscles through a longer range of motion.
Progressive, Whole-Body Training
Kettlebell rehab exercise progressions are the same as with other exercise programs. Progress from slow to fast – start a skill at a speed that allows success. Slow down to gain control, and then once it can be mastered, progress to explosive speed. Progress from simple to complex. Finally, build from stable to unstable: a client does not belong in single-leg stance, on a ball or on any unstable surface if they cannot stabilize on the ground with both feet first. Only progress to a less stable environment when the initial exercise is completely mastered and no longer provides a training effect.
I want my clients to get out of pain as quickly as possible so I can begin to train them for fitness. Being fit is a means toward an end, not an end in itself. I use kettlebells to develop complementary motor skills and abilities, and couple effort with execution. Power, flexibility, agility, speed and endurance are the elements of athleticism. Each is trainable, but they must be trained collectively because they are parts of a larger whole. None is a separate entity or more important than another. Sometimes we need to train isolated muscles, but most of the time we train movement patterns, not individual muscles. Kettlebells help achieve this.
No-Nonsense Exercises to Build Core Strength and Tone Your Entire Body
by Jeffrey H. Tucker, DC, DACRB
Your core is your center of gravity, located around your trunk and pelvis, and having a strong core is vital to good posture, muscle control, injury prevention, maximum athletic performance and even basic activities of daily living. There are a variety of ways to work the core muscles, and these days, it’s not always necessary to use free weights or weight machines. Body weight, foam rolls, stability balls, bands, tubing and medicine balls are tools that can be used at home, on your own, to create a solid foundation for developing dynamic strength in your torso, shoulders, arms and legs.
For example, body-weight exercises such as squats, lunges, push-ups, and pull-ups can target the small and large muscles that influence the spine. Working out with balls and bands can help develop a lean torso and abs, build muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips, abdomen, arms, and create flexibility. And using a foam roll can relieve tension in tight, overactive muscles.
It doesn’t take very much equipment to get started. In my own experience working out at home on a daily basis for the past 15-plus years, a disk used to move furniture becomes the perfect tool to perform sliding lunges. A chin-up bar replaces a lat machine. A chair or a bench becomes a platform to perform step-ups and step-downs. An 8 lb medicine ball can be thrown against an outside wall while performing a chest press. A padded surface or a rocker board/ balance board can be used to perform single-leg stance movements and improves joint stability. A band with handles works just as well as barbells or dumbbells. (Band training provides variable resistance to the popular exercises we use machines or free weights for, such as pressing, rowing, squatting and many others ). A stability ball can be used instead of a flat bench.
What exercises should beginners start with? The National Academy of Sports Medicine recommends starting a workout using the foam roll for what is known as “self myofascial release.” Pressure placed on tender points within the muscle are held for 30 seconds. This allows for optimal muscle lengthening and acts as part of the warm-up phase. Next are lengthening or stretching maneuvers. After stretching only tight, overactive muscles, you then perform basic exercises and progress to advanced strength movements. Maneuvers requiring co-contraction of the small stabilizer and larger mobilizer muscles, such as the”plank” exercise (see below) are great for the abs. Pick exercises that target the front, rear and side muscles of the trunk.
Plank: Start to assume a push-up position, but bend your elbows and rest your weight on your forearms instead of your hands. Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles. Pull your abdominals in; imagine you’re trying to move your belly button back to your spine. Hold for 20 seconds, breathing steadily. As you build endurance, try to do one or two 60-second sets.
Side Bridge: Lie on your side with the forearm on the floor and your elbow under your shoulder. For beginners, start with your knees bent 90 degrees. For advanced exercisers, start with your body forming a straight line from head to ankles. Pull your abs in as far as you can, hold the abs stiff throughout and raise the hips off the floor. Hold this position for 10 to 60 seconds, breathing steadily. Relax down slowly. Repeat on your other side. If you can do 60 seconds, do one repetition per side. If not, try for any combination of reps that gets you up to 60 seconds.
Traditional ab crunch: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your hands behind your ears. Slowly crunch up, bringing your shoulder blades off the ground. Perform 1-3 sets, 12-15 repetitions per set.
Ball and Band Exercises
Everyone wants to learn more “butt” or gluteals exercises. The gluteus maximus and gluteus medius are important muscles of the body and often need extra work. The following are good exercises to target the gluteals:
Gluteal ball bridge: Lie on the ball with your head and upper back resting on the ball, feet on the floor with knees bent. Squeeze your gluteals and then push your hips up until there is a straight line through the knee and hip to the upper body. Shoulders remain on the ball. Beware of rising too high or flaring the ribs, which will push the back into hyperextension. Hold the “up” position for two breaths. Let your butt come down and then repeat. Perform 2-3 sets, 10-12 repetitions per set.
Supine ball bridge: Lie on your back with your heels on the top of a stability ball, hip-width apart to aid stability. Suck in the abdominals and squeeze up from your gluteals, lifting your hips until there is a straight line from heels to upper back. Shoulders and head stay firmly on the floor. Take care not to lift the hips too high or flare the ribs so your back hyperextends. Hold for 30 seconds and lower. Perform 2-3 sets, 10-12 repetitions per set.
Lateral band walking: With elastic tubing around both ankles, stand with toes straight ahead, knees over feet and hands on hips. Draw abdomen in and step to right while maintaining upright posture. Don’t rock your upper body when stepping. Step again with the right foot, bringing your feet back to shoulder-width distance. Repeat for six steps to the right and then six steps to the left. This exercise strengthens the glutes, core, and abductors and adductors (the muscles of the outer and inner thigh, respectively). Perform sets of six steps to each side until you feel a slight burn in the gluteal muscle.
Ball back extension: Training the important posture muscles of the thoracic (middle) and lumbar (lower) portions of the spine also can be done on the ball. Position yourself with your chest on the ball and hook your feet under a leg anchor, or put them up against the bottom of a wall. Hold your arms straight out in front of you. Your body should form a straight line from your hands to your hips. Raise your upper body until it’s slightly above parallel to the floor. At this point, you should have a slight arch in your back and your shoulder blades should be pulled together. Pause for a second and then repeat. You can perform this exercise with the arms in a 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock position or a 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock pose. Perform one set of 12-15 reps.
Stability ball push-ups: If you want to build big arms, especially the triceps, stability ball push-ups will take you to next level. Do a push-up with your feet on a stability ball. Keep your body straight – don’t let your hips sag or stick your butt up in the air. Switching positions and having your feet on the floor and hands on the ball challenges the core further. The instability of the ball increases the level of trunk muscle activation. Do as many as you can with strict form, until you feel fatigue; at least 10-15 repetitions.
Band lunge press: If you want more intensity, working with the bands performing pull and push moves is ideal. The band lunge-press helps develop strength, endurance, balance and coordination; there’s not much this exercise doesn’t hit. With a band securely in place behind you, grip the handles and hold them at shoulder level, palms facing toward each other and elbows bent. Feet should be shoulder-width apart. As you step forward into a lunge position, press the handles forward and finish the press with outstretched arms. Return to the starting position. Form is key: Make sure your front knee is aligned over the heel in the lunge position and concentrate on keeping your upper body erect, chin up, eyes staring forward throughout, as if you were trying to balance a book on your head. Do 10-15 lunges with each leg.
Swimmer’s lat pull is a back exercise you’ll feel throughout your entire body. Use an anchored resistance band. With feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, lean over at the hip – don’t roll your back – until your upper body is almost parallel with the floor. Extend your arms in front of you and grab the band handles. Dynamically draw your arms down and extend them in back of you until they’re at hip level. Think of the motion of a swimmer doing a butterfly stroke – the arm breaking the surface of the water and then continuing down and back. Slowly reverse the motion. Perform 1-2 sets, 10-15 repetitions per set.
Up-chop kneel develops excellent core stability and trunk rotation strength. Kneel with a band or tubing handle attached below hip height. Grasp the handle in both hands to the side of the hip nearest the band. Lift the arms up and at the same time, rotate the shoulders away from the anchor, keeping hips facing forward and arms straight. Complete 1-2 sets of 10 reps on each side.
Down-chop kneel is the opposite of the up-chop. Begin with the handle attached above head height, grasping the handle in both hands above the head to the side of the band. Keeping the hips facing front and the arms straight, pull the hands down and turn the shoulders away from the band. Perform 1-2 sets, 10 repetitions (each side) per set.
Medicine ball slams are a great ab exercise. This exercise involves complete integration of the total body. It will also teach you power development from the ground up and get your heart racing. Take a medicine ball and get in an athletic-ready position (knees slightly bent, ball held with both hands in front of you, as if you’d just caught it) . Bring the ball overhead really fast and slam it down to the floor or ground as hard as you can. Make sure you do a few slow reps first to get a feel for the bounce of the ball, since you have to catch it. Perform 2-3 sets, 10-12 repetitions per set.
Other Tips to Maximize Results
If you work out with another person like your kids or a spouse, you can practice speed and agility drills. Speed is the rate at which something is done or occurs. Agility is the ability to move our body quickly in many directions and speeds with great control. All forms of tag and chase games improve reaction time.
Diversifying your workout will provide new stimulus to muscles and variety of movement. It’s important to change your workout program every 8-10 weeks. One of the biggest mistakes I see my patients do is repeat the same workout over and over again. Show me variety! Often time’s client’s workouts were the first workout they ever learned and it’s the same workout they were doing several elections ago.
Whenever you work out, check yourself for muscle weakness and imbalances from the right side to the left side. Asymmetries cause problems. Exercises that balance your muscles help to avoid injuries, especially those involving the back, groin, hamstrings and knee. A combination workout consisting of foam rolling, band and tubing exercises, medicine ball training, and stability ball exercises can improve your spine and help increase power and performance.
Most people are familiar with Pilates and yoga; these are systems that provide stretching, strength training (especially for the core area), balance training and endurance.
Home exercise programs should include the same fitness challenges and include cardiovascular training (walking, bike, elliptical), reactive training, and speed/agility training.
Getting fit and, training without actually going to the gym is possible when you follow a proper progression and give yourself enough variety of exercises. Becoming your own personal trainer, identifying and fixing muscle weaknesses will benefit your core strength and overall fitness. Your doctor can give you more tips on which exercises and equipment will best help achieve your individual fitness goals.
The Power of the Exercise Band
A recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggests a short-term resistance exercise program utilizing exercise bands is as effective as a weight-machine program in increasing strength and reducing fat. The study, which compared the effects of each type of exercise program in 45 previously inactive women (average age: 51-54) for 10 weeks, yielded similar results in terms of functional capacity (assessed by knee push-up and 60-second squat tests) and loss of fat mass. The study authors concluded, “[Exercise bands] can thus offer significant physiological benefits that are comparable to those obtained from [weight machines] in the early phase of strength training of sedentary middle-aged women.”
||Rest (Between Sets)
||30 seconds per tender point
||N/A (one-time warm-up)
||1 or 2 (build to 60-second holds)
||1 per side, 60 seconds each side
|Traditional Ab Crunch
||Build to 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions per set
|Glute Bridge on Ball
||2-3 sets of 10-12 repetitions per set
|Supine Ball Bridge
||2-3 sets of 10-12 repetitions per set
|Lateral Band Walk
||6 per side or until you feel fatigue
|Back Extensions on Ball
|Stability Ball Push-Up
||10-15 repetitions or until you feel fatigue
|Band Lunge Press
||10-15 repetitions per leg
|Swimmer Lat Pull
||1-2 sets of 10-15 repetitions per set
||1-2 sets of 10 repetitions per set
||1-2 sets of 10 repetitions per set
||2-3 sets of 10-12 repetitions per set
|Note: Total workout time should be approximately 30-45 minutes. Be intense! Be consistent! Change your workout routine every 8-10 weeks. You can complete the entire program three to four times per week, or pick a few each day to create a daily 20-minute workout.
Dr. Jeffrey H. Tucker graduated from Los Angeles College of Chiropractic in 1982. He is a diplomate of the American Chiropractic Rehabilitation Board and teaches a 14-hour postgraduate diplomate series on cervical and TMD rehab and lumbar spine biomechanics and rehab. Dr. Tucker practices in West Los Angeles and Encino, Calif.