The main emphasis of this stretch is on the oblique abdominal muscles, but it also stretches the pectoral (chest) muscles, latissimus dorsi (back muscles, running beneath the arms) and anterior (front) deltoid muscles (capping the shoulder) of the horizontal arm.

Starting position and instructions

Lie on the floor and get properly aligned. Your body should feel balanced around its midline, with the right leg lying at the same level as the left, not hitched nor abducted (moved away from the centre of the body). Your shoulders should be relaxed not shrugged.

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Place your lower back into a neutral position, that’s neither excessively hollowed away from the mat nor pressed flat into it. Stretch your right arm out to the side (abducted) to 90-degrees. Flex your right knee and rotate your trunk towards the left leg, bringing your right knee towards the floor. Place ‘overpressure’ on the stretch by pressing your knee to the floor using your left arm.

Variations

If you find the stretch difficult, place one or two cushions on the floor and take your knee down on to the cushions. This will reduce the range of motion. As you gain flexibility you can reduce the number of cushions that you use until you are able to take your knee right down to the floor. Altering the degree of flexion at your hip and knee will alter the stress of the stretch.

As you flex your hip, pulling it up towards your chest, your pelvis will tilt backwards flattening your lower back and eventually rounding (flexing) it. This action moves the emphasis of the stretch further up the spine from the lower lumbar levels to the upper lumbar and lower thoracic areas.

Although the stretch predominantly targets muscle, you will also be stretching the nerves travelling from your lower back through your leg to your foot. This nerve or ‘neural stretching’ effect is increased if you straighten your upper leg and increased even further if you draw your foot and toes upwards (dorsi-flexion).

Points to note

Because the stretch involves leverage, it should be performed in a slow and controlled manner. It is natural for you to feel a gentle click or pop from your spine if you have not stretched that day. This is due to the release of small gas bubbles in the fluid filled (synovial) joints, which lie on either side of the discs at each level of your spine.

This is harmless unless the sounds are persistent or painful. Where this occurs contact your physiotherapist who can assess your spine and advise accordingly.As the rotation occurs, the lower hip will tuck under the body. This is desirable, as the hip becomes the pivot point around which the body moves. By allowing your hip to tuck under in this way your spine will be better aligned.

Uses

spinal rotation_2

“Spinal rotation is an important movement for the maintenance of back health

Spinal rotation is an important movement for the maintenance of back health. Throughout the day we may use the spinal range of motion very little – performing only small movements while sitting at a desk, driving, and doing household chores. All joints rely on regular movement to obtain nutrients and this is true of the two types of joint in the spine, the discs and the facet joints.

The discs are fluid filled cushions, which lie between the large spinal bones (vertebral bodies). They have a poor blood supply with blood vessels only reaching their outer surface. Movement changes pressure within the discs and causes a pumping action to draw nutrients into them. Similarly the small facet joints, which lie at each side of the disc need movement.

They are fluid filled joints similar in many ways to the knee or elbow. As a fluid filled joint moves, the fluid is swept across the joint surface and altering pressure presses nutrients into the joint cartilage. If very little movement is performed, nutrients are unable to reach all areas of the joint so full motion each day is desirable.

As well as an effect on the spinal joints, this exercise stretches the spinal soft tissues including muscles, fascia, nerves, and joint structures. It is common for there to be asymmetry in these tissues i.e. one side of the body is tighter than the other. Asymmetry can occur through daily activities such are answering the phone by only turning to one side for example.

Over time one side of the body becomes more flexible than the other. Spinal rotation stretches enable you to compare the flexibility of one side of the body to the other and to correct any underlying imbalance. Emphasise the stretch on the tighter side to re-balance the spine. Once both sides are equal you can perform maintenance stretching equally on both sides to keep up spinal health.

If you have had back pain, spinal rotation exercises are often prescribed by a physiotherapist as part of a rehabilitation programme. This is because the rotary stretch is beneficial to the tissues and corrects tissue imbalance. It may also significantly reduce pain, which occurs due to tight tissue, scarring or inflammation. Perform the exercise slowly but deliberately, stretching away from the pain initially so if you have tightness and pain on the right side stretch to the left.

It may take time for the pain to ease so perform 8-10 slow controlled repetitions. Providing the pain reduces the exercise is suitable for you. If pain increases, stop and consult a physiotherapist who can give you a personalised stretching programme, which will take into account both your spinal type and the clinical condition affecting your spine.

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