Rib flare is a common issue in gymnastics that troubles coaches, gymnasts, and parents alike. Rib flaring occurs when the back is over-extended or over-arched and forces the ribs to protrude. It is probably not something the common gymnastics spectator would notice, but judges do, and physical therapists do because it means there is an anomaly with the movements causing the ribs to flare.
Physical therapists have seen rib flare predominantly with gymnasts but it can also occur (overcompensation) with lower back, elbow, and wrist pain. It seems at first like they are unrelated but when you take another look, you see that they have some underlying similarities.
One reason rib flaring occurs is because of inadequate soft tissue flexibility. Soft tissue problems are often neglected because gymnasts don’t notice them as much as they would other issues, or their bodies naturally compensate with other tissues so it is only slightly noticeable. But eventually, you end up with rib flare.
Think of the lat muscles and what happens when they are stiff. The athlete overarches their lower back to compensate. Another muscle that can result in rib flare is the teres major which runs from inside the arm to the shoulder blade.
In addition to rib flare, one might observe the shoulder blades spreading out like wings when a gymnast does a handstand. That is another common side-effect from teres major stiffness. So, how do we reduce the stiffness to get rid of the compensations? A good physical therapist will use tools like the foam roller and an exercise ball to stretch these areas with specific movements. They can also have gymnasts perform handstands and helping them to correct the issues manually. Poor should function and strength is another reason for rib flare, which is remedied in much the same way as addressing the teres major and lats.
If you notice these soft tissue problems, you will want to visit a physical therapist who is well-versed in common gymnast conditions. Miami Physical Therapy Group sees athletes like gymnasts on a regular basis and is specifically trained to recognize these issues. Set up a consultation with them to identify areas that need to be worked on for maximum performance and safety when performing.
Another common area of concern for gymnasts is with their cores. This is the third reason for rib flare. So many movements in gymnastics require a super strong core. Physical therapy can help with any strength issues from not understanding how to engage their core correctly. There are several basic core exercises and techniques that can be implemented to increase power.
There are other causes of rib flare such as having improper form, lack of experience, overtired when training, and lack of stamina. These are a small selection of the possible reasons for rib flare in gymnasts. The good news is that there are simple solutions to these overcompensation issues that will help to keep a gymnast safe and in proper form and technique.