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Overhead Presses for Xyphoid Process Pain?

xiphoidnote: I’m not a doctor and nothing that follows should be construed as medical advice. It is simply a narrative of my experience.

Over the last couple of months I’ve been experiencing some discomfort in both my ribcage and in the xyphoid process. The XP is a little knob at the bottom of the sternum, which is the centerpiece that connects the two sides of the ribcage. The discomfort I was experiencing was not so much a pain as it was a forced awareness of something–a sensation that I had never felt before.

This is the best I can do with a visualization of what I was feeling. I pictured the  xyphoid process as a hook that was pointing forward on the anterior side of my body. It felt like there was a little bit of connective tissue draped over that hook. When I would lean forward and go into any sort of thoracic flexion it felt like I would run out of room in my T spine. Like there wasn’t enough slack there all of the sudden.  I wasn’t having pain, just mild pressure and the sensation that something was just a little “off.”

If this is your first time reading this blog you may not know that I test all of my movements based on biofeedback range of motion tests. If you’re interested in learning more about that, please check out my review of the Gym Movement DVD. But either way just know that when I refer to something “testing well” I’m talking about a movement that increased my range of motion.

In this case I actually tried manipulating (gently!) the xyphoid process. It is possible to get the fingers in on other side of it, and it can also be felt from the bottom. I tried this because of the coat-hook image. I felt that I might be able to move the overhanging tissue with my fingers. It tested well, but not great.

Lateral translation from the scapula and hips also tested well, but relief was temporary. This is because of how much I have to sit at work. I do my best to avoid chairs, but I can’t always do it at the library. Nothing was more likely to replicate the XP discomfort than sitting for two hours and typing.

A colleague from the strength training world suggested that I do some vertical pressing while in either hip extension, thoracic extension, or both. This is an idea that frightened me a little. To give you an example, here is a picture of John Grimek, courtesy of www.oldtimestrongman.com, in an overhead press with a lot of extension (backward lean).

John Grimek Press

The press I have been trying is similar to this, but I have been experimenting with barbells, cambered EZ curl bars, and kettlebells.

It all tests wonderfully and better yet, the pain vanishes quickly. It returns if I sit for too long, but after only three days of working various overhead press movements while extended, I can hold it off longer and longer each time.

If you are experiencing similar discomforts and are interested in trying this I would make a few suggestions:

  • Try the movement with no weight to begin with
  • Extension can be led from the hips or the thoracic vertebrae–try the one that feels most effortless and comfortable
  • Even a mild extension helps me sometimes, so play around with varying degree. Don’t lean back a foot if you can get a benefit from leaning back one millimeter
  • Add weight very, very slowly. There is no need to get hurt over this. Absolutely unnecessary

I believe that if a part of my body was not meant to bend, it would be a bone. This is why I personally am willing to experiment with degrees of spinal flexion and extension that many would consider extreme.

If you have experienced, or are experiencing discomforts that sound similar to what I have discussed here, this may be worth your while to experiment with. But please please please, start with no weight. Listen to your body. Stop if something hurts. Stop if there is unnecessary tension.

It has worked for me but may do nothing for you. We’re all different and our bodies and physiologies can be profoundly dissimilar.

Good luck!


Strength Training for body and mind

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