Having limitations in trunk rotation during swinging in sports such as baseball, softball, tennis, golf, and hockey can create too much load on the shoulder, elbow, and the low back. This can lead to rotator cuff injuries, impingement, Tommy John’s surgery, sciatica, and disc problems. The initiation of motion should occur from the core and spine and then move outward to the arms and legs. Improper form is usually related to underlying movement restrictions.
The thoracic spine is a huge role player in our ability to rotate our trunk. However, it is often gets restricted due to our diaphragm and ribcage position. If our ribcage is elevated, our thoracic spine will then be in a relative state of extension. When the spine is too extended, it cannot rotate fully. How do you know if your ribcage is extended? There are several tests that I perform to determine that position, the easiest and most obvious is when the client lays down on their back and I feel if their ribs are sticking up too much. You can do this on your own by placing your hands on your ribs and feel if the bottom ones are really prominent. Depending on your body type, it could be problematic. However, there are some false positives with this test.
How do I improve this? In order to improve your rotation, you have to get out of extension first. Which means you have to create thoracic flexion. The best way to do this is to get the diaphragm involved. The diaphragm directly impacts ribcage position, which then impacts thoracic spine position. You have to learn how to depress the ribcage and retract the sternum backwards. Specific breathing strategies combined with positions such as the one on the right will help push air into your back and create thoracic flexion. Click here to learn more about the diaphragm
Only once thoracic flexion is achieved, can you move on to other rotation components such as this second picture effectively. You must fully restore flexion before you can fully restore rotation. While performing these type of exercises, you have to make sure you are still maintaining proper thoracic position. It’s very easy to revert back to old habits and elevate the ribcage as you twist.
Regardless of whether you swing right or left handed, you want to work for equal range of motion in both rotation directions. If you avid player, you will find that one side rotates much further than the other. Tipping the balance scales too much with range of motion discrepancies can put you at high risk for injury.