Unchain my rollups
June 14, 2007 7:37 PM   Subscribe

What is happening to me when I try to do situps?

I've worked on my fitness before with Pilates and I want to get back to it. For many years I have had a specific problem: often when leverage myself as in a situp, something under my left ribcage can suddenly spasm and tie itself in an agonizing knot. Sometimes this happens more easily than others (I've even been woken by it once or twice), but right now I can't do even half a dozen Pilates rollups (a kind of flexible situp) without it kicking in and making it pretty much impossible to proceed with even the basic mat sequence. (Pilates is very focused on the abs and "core strength".)

I know the importance of keeping the abs strong, especially as you get older, and I'm finding it frustrating that I can't even do a few rollups without ending up on my side gasping until the spasm stops.

And yes I have asked a doctor about this, but it was handwaved aside as not very serious. I've had this problem on and off for a long time, too, so it isn't something new that's going to kill me.

So, how do I work around this to try to regain fitness? I work at a computer a lot, so am inevitably more sedentary than I would like. And if anyone recognizes this problem – what the hell is it?
posted by zadcat to Health & Fitness (9 answers total)
This sort of 'cramping' is often related to potassium levels. See if eating a banana two hours or so beforehand might make it a difference.
posted by filmgeek at 7:52 PM on June 14, 2007

In addition to the potassium bit above, work your back core area before your front.
posted by kellyblah at 8:30 PM on June 14, 2007

I don't know if this is the same thing, but I have a mild sunken chest going on, and it's worse on my left side. If I'm not careful certain "folded over" positions can cause my floating ribs or intercostal muscles or something on my left side at the level of the bottom of my sternum to feel very unpleasant indeed. My solution is to keep my abdomen taut and braced during movements that might bring this sensation on.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:45 PM on June 14, 2007

See a physiotherapist or sports doctor. General practitioners are more concerned about diagnosing serious illnesses.
posted by randomstriker at 12:38 AM on June 15, 2007

Not sure exactly what it is, but the pilates rollup (or really any pilates exercise) is very effective but can also be really difficult, especially if you are not very fit. It's possibly costochondritis, which is inflammation of the cartilage connecting the rib to the breastbone, and very common, especially in women. Swelling can also occur with the pain. I personally used to have a usually painless thing with my ribs where one right below my right breast used to "pop" up sometimes when I was on my back and took a deep breath. At other times, I would have sharp chest pains, but they were spontaneous.

You might also have some kind of muscle spasm happening. It could be corrected by avoiding more strenuous exercises until you are more fit. We tend to overdo it with exercise at times. Walking is a great initiation back into exercise, and it does involve the abdominals as you support yourself in an upright position. If you are already pretty fit, maybe keep doing what you are doing, but back off from the advanced ab exercises for now. Also make sure you are supporting your neck correctly so you aren't jerking it, and that your back is in a neutral position. Make sure you are working your back muscles as well so that you don't have a strength imbalance between the abs and the back. There are really great ab exercises out there that are less strenuous than the roll up - for example, standing abdominal exercises. Yoga is also great for the abdominals without requiring situps, crunches, or roll ups. And it's also good because the rhythmic breathing you do works and stretches the abdominals.
posted by tuff at 4:20 AM on June 15, 2007

I should say in particular that although pretty much all yoga poses work the abdominals, plank pose is challenging but is a static, isometric pose so may be less likely to provoke your symptoms, and also works both the abdominals and the back.
posted by tuff at 4:23 AM on June 15, 2007

Costochondritis is centred in the sternum, or where the cartiledge connects the ribs. It feels like the rib is dislocating when doing certain things - particularly pushups and situps, and when it flares up, even mild breathing can be painful.

Definitely avoid any aggravating exercises - which is what your physiotherapist will advise you.

Second seeing a physio.
posted by strawberryviagra at 5:20 AM on June 15, 2007

Can you touch the pain, or is it underneath your ribs? I have a problem that I'd describe similar to yours, but I can touch mine. According to my Pilates instructor, who can also feel the knot when it happens, it's due to overly tight lats. (I also have related psoas and oblique tightness on that side, which might add to the problem.) Try stretching and foam-rolling out your lat before doing core exercises and see if that helps.

Also, make sure your psoas is loose too--I'm surprised by how many issues (from mid-spine to knee) that psoas tightness can contribute to.
posted by TG_Plackenfatz at 5:50 AM on June 15, 2007

Response by poster: I can indeed touch the pain. It's not a generalized cramp, but a very specific knot always in the same place. I will definitely be asking my Pilates instructor about dealing with this, or working around it.

Thanks all for your suggestions.
posted by zadcat at 9:59 AM on June 15, 2007

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