'Chest Gripping' is a non-optimal gripping pattern where someone holds excessive tension in the upper abdominal and oblique muscles, commonly in an attempt to flatten their abdominal wall.
Diane Lee, a Canadian physiotherapist described three primary patterns of gripping - chest, back and butt.
How do you know if you are a 'chest gripper'?
The most accurate and reliable way to discover if you have a 'gripping' pattern is to have a one on one consultation and assessment with a physiotherapist however, here are some flag mark presentations of a typical 'chest gripper'.
1) Appearance: Stand side on to a mirror and look at your abdominal wall. A chest gripper will appear to have a relatively flat upper abdominal wall and a bulge or protrusion in the lower abdominal wall. Stand and face the mirror - if you are 'chest gripping', you may notice two vertical lines running along the sides of the abdominal muscles or a cinching effect between the upper and lower abdominals.
2) Breathing: Another way to see if you are a chest gripper - put your hands either side of your chest and take a breath. If you are a chest gripper you will notice minimal to no movement in the lower tummy and the majority of movement will occur in the upper chest. We refer to this pattern of breathing as 'upper chest dominant' as opposed to 'relaxed belly breathing' or 'ebb flow breathing'.
The effect of 'chest gripping'
Chest gripping causes a downwards pressure and force into the abdominal cavity and onto the pelvic floor. Imagine if you were to remove the lid of a toothpaste tube then squeeze it in the middle... the pressure generated in squeezing the middle of the tube results in the toothpaste squirting out. This is similar to what chest gripping is doing to your body. Your pelvic floor will put up with the pressure for so long but unfortunately, it can be an inevitability that your pelvic floor will weaken.
This gripping pattern can predispose you to:
- Stress incontinence (losing urine when you laugh, cough or sneeze)
- Prolapse (where your uterus, bladder or bowel start to descend into the vagina)
- Breathing dysfunction
- Weak abdominal wall and 'core'
- Compressed ribcage which reduces your ability to rotate effectively through your thoracic spine. This can contribute to increase back, hip or pelvic pain
Who is prone to 'chest gripping'?
Anyone can be a chest gripper but we see this pattern in the following populations more commonly:
- Postnatal mothers who are desperately trying to flatten their abdominal wall. The picture (below) is comparing a woman's abdominal wall at 2 weeks postnatal versus 6 weeks postnatal. You can see how her upper abdominals are working overtime to hold everything in.
- Athletes who have done sit ups or oblique twists for a long period of time