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Transverse Abdominis Exercise For Rib Instability

transverse abdominis muscles

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Just a bit of quick background on what led me to look into transverse abdominis exercise in the first place:

In November and December of 2010 I had a really, really nasty cough. The air quality in Salt Lake was pretty poor and there were plenty of us that coughed so badly we bruised, battered, and in some instances, broke our own ribs.

I didn’t have a break, but I coughed hard enough, often enough, that the ligaments on my lowest right rib stretched away from the sternum, and a couple of small strands actually tore. So I had this flapping piece of tissue gently caressing my guts every time I did anything, which was not all that pleasant.

Breathing hurt, lifting hurt, spinal flexion hurt…see the pattern? Ribs have to be the most annoying injury you can possibly have. They can’t be set and knit like a broken ulna or radius, and they move just about every time we do anything.

In desperation I went to a chiropractor. They were the ones who told me about the flapping piece of tissue and suggested I get a CT scan. Here’s what that piece of tissue was doing:

When I reached under my ribcage, I could literally grab something and make it pop back and forth. It didn’t help to do this, but the sensation of something snagged or needing to pop down there made it all but impossible to leave it alone.

CT scans behind me, the chiros suggested wearing a rib belt and performing a very specific, you guessed it, exercise for the transverse abdominis.

The TA is a sheet of muscle deep in the abdomen. If you think about sucking your navel back into your body and try to pin it against your spine, you are tightening up the majority of the TA.

This was the primary exercise that I began working on. Three or four times a day, sometimes sitting, sometimes lying down, sometimes sitting, I would suck my bellybutton in and try to hold it against my spine. Sometimes the Range of motion was great, sometimes it was small.

But little by little things started to tighten up. Essentially what happened every time I would have a session of TA work I would tighten up my own little corset of abdominal muscles. But this took a more specialized, targeted approach to a specific area of the “core,” not just the entire abdominal region.

Crunches didn’t help, planks didn’t hurt me but weren’t very helpful in terms of the instability. Leg raises were the same: not bad, but not making the problem go away either.

A couple of weeks of simply learning how to suck in my gut with some force and focus made a huge difference. I’m still not back to 100% but it’s so much less painful now that I can perform my lifts, get my exercise, and stay sane.

If you’re a fitness nut like me you probably know what I mean by that.

So, I’m no doctor, just a guy who had, according to a few different doctors:

  • a dislocated rib
  • A slipped rib
  • A piece of torn costal cartilage
  • “Ribcage instability”

I don’t care who was right or wrong. What I care about is that I got an answer that is working for me right now. If you’ve had a rib injury and you’ve yet to try this particular transverse abdominis exercise, I’d suggest giving it a try and I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.

A bad rib is bad news. I hope I never deal with it again.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Todd May 16, 2012, 7:24 pm

    Hi Josh,

    I have what appears to be a similar problem with the same horrible sensation of something needing to pop into place and stay there. It has been plaguing me for a long time now. The sensation has become nearly constant.

    I’m going to give your exercises a try, but I’m curious how you are doing now that a significant amount of time has gone by. Since these exercises won’t heal the broken cartilage I don’t understand how this will resolve the condition.

    Also, as I’m trying this exercise, it’s impossible to hold the contraction and breath normally. Do you contract for just a few seconds at a time and then return to breathing?


    • Josh Hanagarne May 16, 2012, 7:41 pm

      Todd, will you please send me an email through the contact form at the top of the page? Let’s talk in more detail and compare notes.

  • Jbot July 4, 2012, 11:43 pm

    Lol. I’m sooo stupid.
    I’ve been having recurring odd pain in my newish fat gut, mostly when riding my scooter or walking. Had some testicle’s upper tube pain, moving around pain, weird stuff.
    Went to the ER the other day cuz the pain was so bad…
    Ct and bloodwork said that things were fine…

    Guess what?
    It’s all the transverse abdominus.
    I’ve let it get so atrophied by not sucking in my gut for the last year that it’s getting all bruised and tore up when I ride.
    I used to suck it in like you describe, but I’ve been a damn foolish piggy lately. When the pain would start, I’d relax those muscles and it would feel better for a few minutes, then the pain would come back with a vengeance.

    Thanks for writing this. I’ve been searching the Internet to figure this out…looks like my fat+weak abs+scooter riding =BAD!
    I just started the exercises and I can feel the difference already.
    Thanks mr librarian man!