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Are you Stomach Gripping?
Stomach gripping (or clinically known as ‘the hourglass syndrome’) is a common dysfunction which can be an underlying factor in many pain syndromes. It occurs due to too much tension in the upper abdominals and dysfunction of the diaphragm (the muscle that sits under your lungs).
The diaphragm: more than just a breathing muscle
You can think about the diaphragm like an umbrella that sits under the lungs at the bottom of the ribcage. Normally the diaphragm will contract towards its outer margins, which are attached to the lower ribcage at the front + sides and to the spine at the back. This pulls the centre of the diaphragm (or the spike in the umbrella) down, inflating the lungs and stabilising the spine.
However, with the hourglass syndrome the diaphragm contracts in the opposite direction, towards the centre (the spike in the middle of the umbrella) which pulls the lower ribs in. This gives rise to the typical narrow waisted or hourglass appearance. Other clues of the hourglass syndrome include a ‘turned up’ belly button or a horizontal crease either at the level of, or just above the belly button. ‘Turning up’ of the belly button is a sign of muscle imbalance of the abdominals; with the upper section working much harder than the lower abdominals and pulling the belly button upwards.
So you may be wondering what’s the problem? A tight stomach and a narrow waist – doesn’t sound so bad to me! However, this altered pattern of muscle activation can have some far reaching effects.
Stomach Gripping and Pain
Low Back Pain
The diaphragm is a key stabiliser of the low back, so when it isn’t working correctly the low back is left vulnerable. This also means other muscles have to work harder to compensate for dysfunction of the diaphragm, specifically the extensors of the lowback. In the picture opposite you can see the extensive ‘sausaging’ of extensors (thick red arrows) as these muscles work overtime in an attempt to support this patients back as he lifts his head. Ideally we would see more balanced activity of these muscles and less ‘sausaging’. This constant overworking of these muscles can lead to continual tightness and pain.
If the diaphragm doesn’t descend properly not only will stabilisation be affected but also breathing. This can place a great strain on the neck. As described above, the centre of the diaphragm should descend downwards expanding the abdomen (belly breath) and inflating the lungs. In the hourglass syndrome this normal pattern of motion doesn’t occur and, in most cases, when breathing in, the chest and shoulders elevate instead to compensate. This puts a lot of stress on the muscles of the neck and is a common factor in headaches and neck pain.
Along with its breathing and stabilising roles, the diaphragm also functions as a sphincter – helping to prevent the stomach contents traveling back up into the oesophagus. It has recently been found that people with GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease) have decreased diaphragmatic function and improving diaphragm function may have a role in GERD treatment  
Why Stomach Gripping occurs
There are 3 main causes to why this hourglass syndrome occurs:
1. Poor habits/ aesthetics
Everybody wants a flat stomach but actively holding the stomach tends to lead to an unbalanced activation of the stomach (with the upper section working much too hard). If this is done for prolonged periods this your brain can ‘rewire’ from your normal pattern of stabilisation to this altered version. A bit like a virus corrupting a computer program.
2. Non-ideal Development
Sometimes the ‘program’ of muscle activation isn’t quite right from the start. This is thought to be the case in around 30% of babies . Abdominal gripping is a common compensation strategy that babies may develop as a result and which can persist into adulthood. Click here to read more on this topic.
3. Protective patterns
Stomach gripping can develop as part of muscle guarding with a painful injury and may remain long after the pain has disappeared. “After an injury tissues heal, but muscles learn. They readily develop habits of guarding that outlast the injury.” Janet Travell, M.D. White House Physician for John F Kennedy.
What you can do
The first step is to learn to relax your upper abdominal muscles. This can be very difficult initially in seated a standing positions, especially if you have been doing it for a long period of time.
The position on all fours (shown above) is usually a good place to start. Adopt this position and relax the stomach. Think about dropping your stomach to the floor. Next, take a relaxed breath in, expanding the stomach and sides of your ribs. You should feel you stomach move into your thighs but you shouldn’t feel the shoulders lifting. Breathe out, again focus on relaxing the stomach. Repeat this breathing cycle for 3-5 minutes 3-5 times per day. Once mastered you can integrate this pattern into your daily postures and movements – sitting, driving, standing, and walking before progressing to more advanced exercises.
Are you an stomach gripper? Do you suffer with neck pain, back pain or GERD? Let us know in the comments section below.
- Kolar, P. (2014). Clinical Rehabilitation. Alena Kobesová
- Liebenson. C., Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies
- Meholjic, A. (2010). Can a Motor Development of Risky Infants Be predicted by Testing postural Reflexes According to Vojta Method?. Materia Socio Medica, 22(3), 127-131
Love your article on stomach gripping. It makes so much sense and explains why so many people are suffering . A little knowledge can go a long way.
Hope people take the time to read this .
I have had stomach gripping my whole life. Just recently I noticed that I was doing it. I try to stop, but it’s very difficult to do when stressed. I have to make more of an effort. When I do, I feel better.
Karen, me to when stressed it’s hard to relax stomach muscles but when I do I feel better, and like my digestion is better
I truly appreciate this article.Much thanks again. Will read on… Musslewhite
I love this, I believe I stomach grip when I get stressed or frustrated. I also grit my teeth. I have noticed that my ribs poke out and even though my belly is big, it makes it hard to wear bras and they ride up on me. I do a lot of yoga so I am going to practice that one pose and hold for all the breaths to help. I have bad Gerd, so thankful for this article and information to fix it.
Will a physio be able to help? Or a Chiro?
Either a physio or chiro who is familiar with this issue should be able to help. Feel free to book a no charge initial consultation so see what would be best for you.
Diagnosed with gall stones and GERD having sore ribs and back, more concerning shortness of breath when climbing stairs etc
Thank you so much. I have been suffering with this for along time but didn’t know how to describe it to my emphysema or general practice physician.
Thanx for this. I have all of the above symptoms and it occurred to me that they are caused by wrong breathing. Eventhough I have permanent abdominal breathing I’ve noticed that when I breathe out I grip my stomach. Now I am trying to learn what relaxed exhale is like. Intead of going backwards, like the stomach withdrawing, which causess the grip, maybe it should move downwards,like I allow it to fall – from a sitting of a standing position.
Your articel was helpful. Thank you
[…] Are you stomach gripping? […]
OMG!!!!!!!! I cannot believe this!! I have every single symptom listed and a couple more… I have been having issues with my belly for a couple of years. I had gastric bypass the R-Y procedure) so i was opened vertically. I then had 3 additional surgeries for hernia repair,small bowel obstruction and skin removal. In the last 6 months, i have noticed symptoms I have never had before. If i allow my upper abdominal muscles to relax, I barely can breathe. Holding my muscles tight all day long is exhausting and uncomfortable. I then noticed that for about a month, i wake up and vomit most days. I am very nauseated but i have always attributed that to my surgical history. This is different. I feel like my insides are not being supported. I have a left upper rib that literally pops out of place and i attribute it to the weakness in my diaphragm. The only comfortable position is laying flat or in a Cat position. I have low back pain suddenly, I have acid reflux symptoms, and for about a month I have complained or neck pain also, attributing that to a bad pillow. After reading this, i clearly have all the symptoms. THANK YOU!! Is stretching alone going to fix this or do I need to see a doctor. It’s causing me anxiety because it always feels like someone just punched me in the stomach.
Hi Jami, Sorry for the slow reply. In your case with a history of multiple surgeries you may need some hands on treatment to fully correct the issue. Please see the link for a list of DNS practitioners who would be well versed in this problem (https://www.rehabps.cz/rehab/certified_practitioners.php?zeme_var=United%20Kingdom#slide). If you have had a gastric bypass surgery you may also want to consider possible nutritional deficiencies that may be contributing to your symptoms. This article discusses some of the main ones (https://jaoa.org/article.aspx?articleid=2093757). If you would liek more specific info on nutritional deficiency you can reach out to me directly via the info on our contact page.
Hi Jamie! I have what you have to a T! I cannot breathe when I relax my belly. At all. And every single one of the symptoms listed in this article. I see you posted in 2020. Are you any better now? I JUST found this article and am planning on implementing the advice given here. So are you any better today? What have you tried? I’m desperate
Are you better today? Did you try anything that helped? I’m in the same exact boat and desperate to feel some relief
I think I’m a stomach gripper. I have most of the symptoms listed above. It all started after my gallbladder surgery. I had so many tests done and they couldn’t find anything that’s wrong with me. I started to notice when I bend forward to pick something up, I have to brace myself because I feel like I’m going to fall over. My shortness of breath is terrible and I have a very poor appetite. My anxiety is pretty bad too. I’m going to give this a try and see how it goes.
Hi Ali, Sorry to hear you are having problems. If you are in Jersey I would be happy to have a chat and see if we can help. Steffen
I’ve been having so many medical problems also depression and anxiety disorde,this belly gripping its been so painful full I can’t even get out of bed as soon as I do the gripping starts it goes right into my back and I also get pain in the lower right side I have high blood pressure, I’ve lost my two baby sisters passed so my dad and my two sisters they died of heart attackswith my two younger sisters I just lost one 4 month’s ago and my other sister the year before that,and this belly gripping started about three months ago I’ve teyed all of what u put out there so now where do I go from here,,??
Hi Brenda, I’m very sorry to hear that. Its sounds like the gripping may be a secondary issue and you would liekly benefit from a personalised assessment and treatment to identify/address the underlying cause(s). I would recommend consulting with a good functional medicine doctor to start (take a look here).
Have you been diagnosed with a hiatal hernia?
Hi, I have all of the above symptoms. I have chronic IBS over past 20 years. I have so much fo discomfort around my upper stomach feels like muscle tightness. I don’t feel pain but the tightness stops me sitting comfortably and the only way that I can mitigate the discomfort is by lying done on my back. Its not easy fro me do the posture you posted above as it used to be one the most relaxing posture for my low back pain in past. Any suggestions to reduce this tightness around my upper stomach is so appreciated. Thanks!
Hi Mary. Stomach probelms such as IBS, chrons or UC can also drive a stomach gripping pattern. Have you had your IBS fully investigated?
Hi Steffens, thank you for your quick reply. It’s much appreciated! I have had the same symptom of severe bloating to the extend as if I am 7 month pregnant and this started since 1999 after an sport accident/ ice skating and fell down backward lucky I hadn’t break any bones but I got sever muscular issues that been treating it for years through seeing chiropractor and massage therapist together sometime physio. I get better until stress set my body off. That all said, I had an endoscopy done back in 2006 and that showed acid reflux and didn’t have any type of hernia. I also had barium swallow X-ray done and that was all okay too. Interestingly when I wear my sport bra then I don’t feel the tightness as much? I’m frustrated and exhausted of not knowing what to do.
Hi Steffen, thanks for your reply. I have had endoscopy done back in 2005 and I had similar extensive bloating. No sign of hiatus hernia. It showed acid reflux. The stomach griping and muscle tightness all around upper belly and around my diaphragm is very uncomfortable. It feels as if you are wearing something tight and causing pressure. I do not have pain but it’s pressure and tightness feeling in the muscles. When I release gas helps to take that pressure off. When I’m lying down on bed it helps to mitigate the tightness and almost don’t feel that anymore. Thanks
Where are you based Mary? I’ll see if there is someone I could possibly refer you to.
I have been dealing with this tightness and its gets so tight I have to go get it massaged out. I think it’s bc I have a desk job now and I must be sitting wrong or doing something wrong. If I even bend over the muscles above my stomach spams up and hurts so bad until it finally releases.
I’ve developed this following hours of sitting at my desk job and I also have to get regular massages to help ease the pain. It’s a horrible condition hope you feel well soon.
Hi Steffen, thanks so much for your reply! I sent you a reply few minutes ago but not sure it went through. I have had endoscopy done back in 2006 and it was showing acid reflux and not any hernia. I also had barium swallow back in 2000 and that also showed acid reflux. My symptoms is exactly same as for bloating ever since 1999 when I first stared showing symptoms of bloating and was as severe ever since and that said it flares with stress. When I do deep breathing it looks like my bloating goes down by half. I get bloated really bad with distension and that it looks like a 7 months pregnant women. It’s frustrating and I have tried chiropractors and Massage therapy was helpful but due to Covid we can’t go for any fo those. Meditation is helpful. When I lye down on my back feels immediately better and my bloating goes down. I also wanted to let you know that I have started getting this IBS severe bloating symptoms since 1999 and that happened after severe stress and an sport accident while was ice skating. I have taken Losec for many years but stopped taking it because of side effects. I try to help the IBS symptom with natural medicine. I’m a scientist / molecular biologist and that strongly believe in traditional medicine.
Hi Steffen, I am based in Toronto, Canada.
Hi Mary, sorry I didn’t see this until now. Take a look for a DNS practitioner in your area for the mechanical side of things – https://www.rehabps.cz/rehab/certified_practitioners.php. You may also want to consider a functional medicne approach if there is also an underlying gut issue. Take a look at https://drruscio.com/.
Very interesting article and so much relates to my breathing pattern, back and neck pain. I have periods where whole ribcage under the breasts feels stiff and sore and also rib bones in the front combined with lower back pain. Just wanted to ask you – could an irritated or stiff diaphragma cause burning pain just under the lower ribs? Feels as if my skin is sunburned, but deeper down. Could it be muscles or maybe likely nervepain? Have just been diagnosed with Chrons, but to me it does not feel like it is related to intestines, but difficult to know. Burning pain is not really listes as a Chrons symptom as far as I can tell. It is not from my stomach. It follows the shape of the lower ribs in the front and is often accompanied with burning sensation on my back as well. Today both back and stomach pain (burning) got worse after a walk. Have been chronically ill for 10 Years so this body had been through a lot. This burning pain especially in the front is very annoying so just had to send you a question.
Thanks for your question. Your symptoms could be related to the diaphragm but I would recommend getting a assessment to rule out the possibility of nerve pain.
Hello C. I just wanted to let you know that you are not alone in this skin burning. I found this article, and like most, I was searching for answers to my own weird issues. Periodic bloating, feels like my stomach I’d in a vice, it’s soooooo squeezy I have such shortness of breathe. I also have multiple compression syndromes and I’m trying to discern if SMAS or MALS might be contributing factors. I have all these other symptoms, except I cannot control the shortness of breath. Things feel so emergent on the inside, it is definitely alarming. I’ve been to the E.R. a few times. Having May Thurner, I sometimes worry the “plueritic chest pain” and the “welling tightness” in chest and stomach sensation are pulmonary embolism. But I have been checked. The burning skin sensation happens as well, although I have not had an “episode” lately. I definitely bug my doctor about it regularly. I work in construction. I’m a very physically active person. I could go on forever about my strange issues, but I just was hoping it would give some of you comfort in knowing. I’ve been stuck this way for over 6 years and it began with the diagnosis of my hiatial hernia via colonoscopy/ endoscopy. Things are never what it seems with the body I’ve learned, and most recently, I’m told by doctors all this additional pain is deferred pain from the stomach.
Do you have any more sources about this? Would love to read more into it.
Take a look here –> https://www.rehabps.com/REHABILITATION/Home.html
I’ve got poor posture, GERD, the crease across the stomach, and low back/pelvis pain (SI joint). I had no idea this even existed.
Oof. I have a horrible gastric history, hiatal hernia, crazy back and neck pain, and I KNOW for a fact I do this because I was a vocal performer in my 20’s and was afraid of looking fat while I was singing, so I learned to breathe while ‘sucking in.’ That’s very eye opening.
I am happy to hear and know my problem is not my heart. I have all of the above unfortunately and it’s terrible. I am so scare , my belly is turning upside down , my back is so painful, my lunge and like someone pokeing me with a sharp object. My Ribs , under my breasts , my back , my lower back , between my 2 breast . It’s all over very painful. I was recently dynose with stomach hernia .
I wish everyone the best and hope all get better soon.
Okay I 100% do this and definitely have hourglass syndrome. It’s crazy because those red arrows are the exact locations I have regular muscle pain. I’ve been doing the breathing exercises and stretches and it’s amazing how different it feels just to breathe now. Are there other exercises or things to do that can help decrease that line or the damage caused by this problem? Thank you for all of this info.
Hi Kelsey, glad your feeling a little better. Seeing a good massage therapist to work on areas of residual tightness (like the upper abdominals, psoas and hips rotators) can be helpful for chroinc/ stubborn issues. From a exercise standpoint the goal is to progress into more challening psoitions whilst maintaining a good breathing pattern and spinal allignment – An assisted deep squat hold (like a normal deep squat but hoding onto something like a door handle to reduce some of the weight) can be a good progression once you are good with the rainbow breathing positon. (the squat position is really the same as rainbow breathing but turned vertical). Hope that helps.
[…] Are you stomach gripping? […]
Hi Steffen! Wow, this is what I’ve been looking for, for years! My symptoms match to a T. Do you think pregnancy can cause this issue? Gerd, and pain aside, my worst symptom yet is breathing difficulty 24/7. It only gets a little easier when laying down. Hanging from a pull bar is a nightmare, my breathing stops right away. I assume it’s due to the weird diaphragm position when dead hanging from a bar? Also sitting upright with a straight back gives me instant severe breathing difficulty. Will be trying your stretch!
Hi Lucy. Pregnancy can certainly have an impact, particulary if a c-section was performed or diastasis developed. If hanging and and siting straight exacerbate the breathing difficulty it MAY be associated with an “open scissors” postural syndorme and that would need to be addressed to help faciliate a proper diaphragm position and breathing pattern. Its also important to rule out other causes of breathing difficulty e.g. asthma. Hoppe that helps
[…] Are you stomach gripping? […]
[…] Are you stomach gripping? […]
Thank YOU!!! Now that I have read this article I realize that I have been a “gripper” for most of my life! Became extreme this past week or so in response to medical issues and stress related to those. I have dealt with many of the symptoms throughout my life; acid reflux, neck and back pain. I have scoliosis and have a Harrington rod in place. Was placed in 1980. Do you think this fact has contributed to my gripping?
Potentially… Pain, stress, trauma and surgery can all exacerbate this gripping pattern. But it can also largely be corrected or at least managed even if this is the case. Good luck!
I didn’t know this was a thing. But I have the horizontal line above my belly button where my stomach dips in some. As I’ve gained weight, my stomach looks like a B from the side. And my lower belly fat just hangs. So while I’m not a super big person, my stomach shape makes me insecure. I have pcos which makes me gain weight between my hips. But now I’m scared my stomach will always look like this.
Hi Haven. Don’t panic it is resolvable in most people with some simple exercises and training. It can be exacerbated by abdominal disorders like PCOS but there any many approaches to help with that also. Take a look at the work of people like robb wolf, rhonda patrick, chris kressor or terry wahls for approaches for PCOS. Good luck 🙂
Hi, I’m 14 years old and about 4 years ago I began insecure of my weight. I was a little chubby from having such a big appetite. I can’t remember exactly when,but I developed a habit of holding in my gut. For a while I didn’t think about it, until about a year ago I decided to lose weight. I ate the normal three meals a day but nothing in between. I became conscientious of everything I ate, even a small piece of candy. My parents started to notice the rapid decline in my weight during check ups. During my recovery about 4 months ago I let go of my belly and thought, I’m all better now. Just recently I went to the doctor and I found out that I’m extremely constipated and blocked up with gas. I also feel tightness in my abdomen which is making it hard to breath,and I’ve been having irregular periods. It been almost three month since my last period. I have most of the symptoms listed. Please, I need more advice. I’m afraid.
Hi Karina, If you have been gripping for a long time this can result in some a more ‘fixed’ pattern that can remain even when consciously relaxing the stomach. This may need some hands on treatment and further exercise to resolve completely. This residual gripping pattern may be the cause (or at least part of the cause) for the constipation and gas but is unlikley to be the cause of the period irregularity so you should get that investigated fully. If further treatment doesn’t change your constipation and gas symptoms consider some additional nutitional/ supplementation approaches.
Thanks for this article, Steffen! I was a dancer growing up and as I’ve gotten older (I’m in my mid-20s) I’ve developed all of these symptoms and the physical appearance that comes from this. I am based in Minnesota in the US. Is this something I could go to a general physical therapist for support for? Or do you think a pelvic floor therapist would have better knowledge? Being in my mid-20s, I would love to get control over this and retrain my body as to prevent future issues. Thank you!
Thanks Emily, depending on their background a phsyical therapist could help. Most DNS practitioners (who are doctors, chiros, physio or osteos with additional training in DNS) will likely to be best suited to help. You can see a list of practitioners here –> https://www.rehabps.cz/rehab/certified_practitioners.php Good luck!
Wow, my mind is blown! And that takes some doing! I was born with some health issues that put me on the alternative health pathway my whole life. Naturally, I’m drawn to articles such as this. Seeing this one has been eye-opening for me. I lived through the 80’s which of course, glamorized the hourglass figure. Which I proudly attained, unknowing of the cost. Until now, I’d been under the impression that an hourglass figure had been something I should be proud of regardless of how I felt. Now I’m rethinking this. So it sounds like a woman really isn’t supposed to have a narrow waist like that after all, right? Are the exercises I’ve seen women doing that seem to widen the waistline (i.e, planking) actually better or worse for the diaphragm? What stomach-flattening/strengthening exercises would you recommend to strengthen overall gut health?
Hi. It largely depends how you do them! Planks and side bridges can be OK if done well. Often abdominal exercises with a rotational component can help to prevent the upper abdominals over contracting – take a look at the “low oblique sit” exercise on youtube for a rotational variation. Crunches/ sit ups are generally best avoided as it can be very difficult not to overactive the upper abdominals if you are prone to doing so. “Deadbug” type exercises are generally a better option than crunches.
Hi I have this I think. I have the crease in the abdomen and tightness in the belly and back. It’s fine if I’m rested off my feet but after an hour or so on my feet the muscles indicated with red arrows get tight and I have slot of discomfort but I wouldn’t say pain. I also get headaches. I’ve had X-rays and ct scans and mri. And all normal.
Thanks for sharing. Often this pattern will occur without signs on X-ray and MRI. If you feel like you need treatmnet for the pain take a look at this list (https://www.rehabps.cz/rehab/certified_practitioners.php) for someone in your area who may be able to help.
I’m not sure what’s worse, the breathing problems i’ve been left with or that I used to think the “second boobs” was a defect with my ribs and that they stuck out too much causing that look. Little did I know it was because I sucked in my stomach from the age of 7/8 until now at 26. The back problems and constant tense neck muscles make sense now. We were so little and so impressionable, I always see my 4 year old “sucking in her gut” when I try to put her pants on (ones with buttons) and I always tell her she doesn’t have to do that. If the pants can only be buttoned by sucking in your gut then they no longer fit and that’s okay! I always try to remind her that she’s a little kid growing really fast and it’s normal for her clothes not to fit the same all the time either. I try really hard as a mom of 2 girls to remind them our tummy and body shapes change from day to day from all kinds of minor things. If I had guidance like that I think I would be much better off. A lot of parents think their kids are overweight when it’s just normal childhood growth. There are periods when infants get wider but don’t get taller! Then they spend 6-12 months only growing taller but not really putting on weight! It’s NORMAL and it’s NATURAL!
I must have been sucking my stomach in for years and never knew it would cause this. Now I’m almost 30 and have gerd with barretts esophagus. I’m hoping these stretches help.
Thanks Joey. Corrceting muscular issues like stomach gripping can be helpful. Nutrition can also be a big factor – for more infomation take a look at https://chriskresser.com/how-to-cure-gerd-without-medication/
Hello I am from India. I have this problem for more than 12 years. Sometimes it’s absolutely normal. Sometimes I have a feeling that something is stuck below my left rib. I had my endoscopy done in 2008. That time it was informed that diaphragm is slightly red. Thereafter couple of times barium x-ray was done but nothing was seen. I think It’s something like hiatus hernia or is enlarged spleen. I am confused. After reading this article I feel my breathing is wrong.But I have not understood exact pattern mentioned in your article. Can you please elaborate it.
Hi Varsha, please see this article for more information –> https://dynamichealth.je/2020/09/23/how-well-do-you-breathe/
I’ve been clenching my stomach muscles for 21 years didn’t know it could have effects like this. I’ve always felt like I can’t take a full breath and in the last three years I’ve developed very bad headaches that never go away and just a year ago I started to have severe neck pain on top of headaches. I’m scheduled to see a neurologist for my c7 I believe but I was wondering if I should bring this up if u think this could be a factor in what’s causing my pain?
You could mention it but consultants are generally more focused on the source of the pain rather than identifying/addressing the underlying cause. If you haven’t already consider seeing a good chiro/ physio/ osteopath for an assessment of potential underlying mechanical causes (such as stomach gripping).
Hi, I’ve been self-conscious of my weight since I was in 3rd grade, and I’ve always just sucked in out of habit, even before reading this article, I was sitting there just doing random stuff with my muscles flexed. I always wondered why I have the larger portions of skin on my rib cage, and it’s apparently this. I feel cheated in life because now I’m in 9th grade and 15 and now I will probably never be able to recover from this 6+ year bad habit. I’ve always watched what I’ve ate, and I’m even 6’0 ft, but I still feel inadequate with myself and Even though I work out every other day, I just can’t lose like 20 lbs in one day, and I tbh am sick of having back problems and having my stomach muscles form bad. I feel like the American education system messed up by not telling me at an earlier age about this and what it would lead to because I probably wouldn’t have all the spinal and body image problems that I do now. Good luck to everyone else in the comments, feel better.
Hi Mj, don’t give up! you are still very young with ALOT of potential for change. Awareness is the first step and most people (myself included) aren’t aware of this problem until much later in life. Aim for tiny improvements each day and you will get there
Hello , I’m reaching out because last year I had major reflux which gave me esphogitis. I was given ppi’s and told I’d be using them the rest of my life. After a while it stopped with my taking supplements and doing various exercises. It has recently returned, but only stomach gurgling for a week. Also discomfort that came and went. I’ve been holding in my gut for years , very heavy into bodybuilding. I have an appointment with a gastroenterologist in a week and am concerned I’ll just be given ppi’s again, and sent on my way. I’m in PA and very interested in being seen , by someone who actually knows what their talking about. If state insurance is an issue , I’m willing to pay cash and travel to New Jersey. Please if you would , advise me on any options I may have .
Hi Walter, thanks for your message. We are based in Jersey Channel Islands (in the UK) so out of reach I presume! As the article explains musculoskeletal factors can play a role in reflux – a DNS practitioner would likley be best placed to help in that respect – see if there are any in your area here –> https://www.rehabps.cz/rehab/certified_practitioners.php. Nutritional factors can also play a role – for more infomation take a look at https://chriskresser.com/how-to-cure-gerd-without-medication/. Good luck
Thought the NJ was New Jersey my bad
I thought the exact same thing and started to look him up in New Jersey, US
I never knew this was a medical issue. My mother used to force me to suck in my stomach constantly. She called it “thinking” and now i have the area under my breasts that I’m hella insecure about because it doesn’t look right.
Hi, I have an hourglass figure, but around 15-16 I started doing hundreds of sit-ups a day and I’m not sure if that’s caused the upper abdominal muscles to stick out. There is an obvious dip in my stomach and I’m now 34 and it just won’t go away. I tried losing more weight to see if it would go, but it hasn’t. Is there anyway to get rid of this? My mum is an hourglass and had a very flat stomach and I did before I started doing so many sit-ups. I do struggle with anxiety and depression and have suffered with panic attacks and I have noticed recently a lot of tension around my upper abdominals. Is there anyway of reversing this? It’s really bothering me now because I feel like whenever I bend, even though I’m thin, it makes me look bigger. I’m worried about doing any other exercises with my stomach, just incase I make it worse.
Hi Kim, as discussed in the article learning to relax the upper abdominals is an important first step. If the gripping pattern is chronic or severe often soft tissue work (e.g. self massage or from a therapist) is required. Simple breathing exercises can be added next and later abdominal exercises with a good breathing pattenr and balanced activation of teh trunk muscles (i.e not overusing the upper abdominals). Crunches/ sit ups are generally best avoided as it can be very difficult not to overactive the upper abdominals if you are prone to doing so. Planks and side bridges can be OK if done well. Often abdominal exercises with a rotational component can help to prevent the upper abdominals over contracting – take a look at the “low oblique sit” exercise on youtube for a rotational variation. “Deadbug” type exercises are generally a better option than crunches.
After noticing and fixing stomach gripping, will it affect the way the intestines digest? I mean since I’ve been doing it for most of my life, my abdominal area is used to the pressure and contraction of the muscles, so now that I am relaxing it all the time does it cause other symptoms to occur?
Proper movement of diaphragm (which can be inihbited by stomach gripping) is important for movement of digested food through the bowel. For this reason stomach gripping can also be associated with ‘functional’ bowel issues such as IBS or constipation.
I am shocked! Literally have been googling things on and off for years. Tonight, I pick up my phone and Google stomach tightness and saw the anatomic pic and it drew me in. I have the line, I have GERD – where it seems nothing helps but maybe mitigating my diet and portion size but sometimes that doesn’t help either. I have definitely been the person for years and years that would walk around erect with my upper muscles engaged. People would compliment me on my posture. I recently had a gallbladder surgery due to stones. I thought everything went away, as for a couple months everything was relaxed and normal then it started rearing its ugly head again. Now it’s ridiculously uncomfortable and can wake me up at night with mega burning and pain. I get some relief when stretching, when I take deep belly breathes (that feels so good) but I have to be in a half laying down position to be able to get a good one in otherwise it’s like my body doesn’t know how to do it. The stomach gripping is so automatic, there are times I ask myself why I’m tightening my upper ab muscles bc at this point all it does is cause discomfort to the point it really interferes with my day bc it’s uncomfortable but also bc of the GERD. I was about to go through a bunch of testing but knowing this, I think I need a DC. I don’t have a DNC local unfortunately. It’s good to know it’s not in my head and can be reversed. Recently I started Nexium but Bentyl has helped a great deal. I’m not a med person so the first thing I want to do is figure it out so I can fix it and get off these things. Any advice is accepted. Thank you!!
Thanks Tara. Stomach grippng/ hourgalss posture can be primary or secondary (i.e. it develops due to another problem). If your stomach gripping improved considerably after gallbladder surgery it MAY be that it is secondary in your case. Its always best to identifty / address the true underlying cause(s) (although this is not always easy). A good functional medicine practitioner may help in this regard. Also be aware even if the stomach gripping is secondary but has been there for a long time, often this will also need direct treatment even after the primary cause has been addressed. Good luck!
I have done this for years and was alerted to it when I was told I have Pelvic Floor Dysfunction. I also have severe GERD as well as back problems. I’m curious could this also be due to sex traumas, rape or molestation? This is the first time I have ever heard of the diagnosis for this.
Hi Melody, Pelvic floor function is closely related to diaphragm function and can therefore be impacted by hourglass syndrome/ stomach gripping. Early life trauma can cause a sustained sympathetic response which could promote a number symptoms including anxiety, depression and muscle tightness.
I don’t have this condtion but I have bulimia. Can bulimia cause this??
This is an amazing article. I have this! And I literally have no way of describing what I’ve been experiencing for most of my life to my doctors. It is miserable. Unfortunately there are no DNS practitioners in my state. Do you have any other suggestions as to how to get this treated ??? Thank you so much!!!
Hi Tabitha, Thank you. Unfortunatley it is very under recognised by practitioners. I would suggest calling around for a physiotherapist/ chiropractor/ osteopath who at least treats the abdominal area and assesses/ treats breathing patterns.
I have been gripping my abdominals for many years due to anxiety. For the past 10 yrs I have been having flare ups of pain around the Costal mmargin, so painful! drs thought it could be related to an old appendix scar!
Apart from the obvious tension I never thought I was causing myself pain, could gripping get so bad?. I also butt clench and my pelvic floor is so painful at the moment too. I have been trying diaphragmatic bteathing
Is there anything else you can suggest?
Thanks for telling us about this.
Hi Ruth. Abdominal scars can certainly exacerbate pain and gripping – it would be worth having it assessed and treated if necessary. Glut (butt) clenching is also commonly related. Take a look at this article for more information and advice.
I have been for many tests for stomach and back pain and all come back negative I can only think that stomach gripping is the cause I have been doing it for many years unbeknown
All the symptoms seem to correspond to the above can your GP prescribe pain relief I have taken all sorts of medication I have been treated for IBF to consterpation and still suffer pains help
Hi Shaun, sorry to hear that. Medication is generally unsuccessful for treatment of stomach gripping. Hands-on treatment combined with exercise tends to work best. I would recommmed trying to find a good physio/ chiro/ osetoapth experienced with treating this problem. Good luck.
I started having pains below my sternum which then moved laterally along the ribs and reached the spine. By the time I saw the doctor the pains had gone, but she prescribed Lansoprazole for a month, which I took. This left me with a sense of emptyness and suction from inside my stomach and a tightness and heaviness at the bottom of the sternum. I have seen a nutritionist in the past circa 3 months who has put me on the paleodiet and a number of gut and other supplements. In the meantime I have had an endoscopy which has found a sliding hiatus hernia. The diet has not improved the sensation of suction and emptyness in my stomach. These symptoms improve when I eat but return again, as if the stomach needs to be active all the time. Do you think I suffer from the gripping condition that you describe? What do you suggest I should do to improve?
Hi Giorgio, unfortunately without examination it would be impossible to give you any specific answers. I would recommend seeking the help of a good practitioner, you can find some links in the comments below. All the best
Hi, I’ve constantly been having food come in my mouth, and I have some symptoms that you have listed above. I just want to make sure that the issue that I’m facing is GERD. So this has been happening for a month, I have chest pains randomly, not too severe, on a scale of 1 to 10, I would consider the pain a 1. The chest pains also happen when I take deep breaths. I also feel like the food I eat is coming to my mouth or I am going to vomit. Another issue is that when I bend forth and then stand up straight again, I get a feeling of my stomach being pinched. I also burp very often nowadays. The chest pain mentioned earlier just fades away on its own and travels to my upper back, upper abdomen, or my shoulder. It’s really scary since I’ve always been in good shape. So to control this I started taking omeprazole 20 and Gas Ex, which was prescribed by a doctor and am constantly drinking water, how can I fix this problem.
Thank you for your advice,
Hi Muhammad, unfortunately it would be impossible gove you specific answers without examination. I would recommend seeking the help of a good practitioner, you can find some links in the comments below. Best of luck.
This describes me exactly. Over the years I have had neck and shoulder pain, lower back pain and years of digestive problems. Gall bladder removal 4 years ago gave me around 6 months of relief from the gripping sensation around my lower ribs but this came back again. Numerous scans and endoscopies show nothing and I continue to suffer functional dyspepsia with sensation of stomach not emptying particularly later in the day. Can only eat small amounts before feeling full. Also suffer lots of stomach twitching and spasming after eating and when hungry which can trigger ectopic heart beats and sometimes a rapid pulse. Not currently taking any medication and the only thing that seems to help is regular gentle exercise, stretching and deep breathing which helps to calm the vagus nerve. More GPs should know about this. Excellent article.
I sub-consciously hold my stomach. The child’s pose in the article is helping especially when done for longer periods. What are the more advanced exercises?
I recognise these signs. Neck pain. Lower back pain. I have what feels like a tight band around the front bottom of ribcage (diaphragm) around in a circle to the back. My bottom ribs on both sides are sore. Drives me insane.
Me to T… I wake up and it feels my stomach is glued to my back it hurts wildly .. I started to breath using lower diaphr it loosened up already. Thanks I need to see a primary so I can see. Specialist
Hi, cannot believe I found this! For many years I have suffered with debilitating lower back pain. I am not 37 but have had back pain for 16 year.
I now have neck spasms and neck tension constantly for the last 3 years.
It’s only since I visited an Osteopath I realised just how bad my stomach clenching is. I know I have always done it but I actually assumed it was normal, and that most other people did the same.
It feels so hard to let my stomach release, and so unnatural.
I cannot believe this is even a thing and I’m only realising now! Thank you.
Hello. I began to feel my stomach tightening each time I stood up and especially while I was walking about four years ago; it got progressively worse over the years and now I have severe tightness in my neck that accompanies my stomach gripping whenever I walk with my arms at my side. It has gotten to the point that I cannot climb stairs or walk up an incline unless I place my hands on my hips or in my pockets to support my body as I am ascending. I find it difficult to breathe when I am walking or climbing, because my abdominal muscles pull so tightly, along with my straining neck muscles. I have acid reflux and that has also been kicking in along with my stomach gripping when I walk.
I recently had an abdominal biopsy taken to determine if this is a form of muscle or neurological myopathy. This scenario has been affecting my life tremendously. I am not experiencing any pain however, just extreme, involuntary contractivity of my abdominal and neck musculature upon trying to maintain an erect posture. What are your thoughts, as I await the results of my biopsy? Thank you so much.
Hi Ira, unfortunately it is very difficult to draw any firm conclusions without an in person assessment. However, given what you have described and the severity of symptoms it may well be the stomach gripping is a secondary issue. I wish you the best of luck with your recovery
I have been struggling with this so much. I am overweight, and because of the rib gripping, my body fat is distributed in very strange ways that leave me feeling very self-conscious.
I do regular stretches and try to improve my posture to help correct the issue, but I fear I may be too far gone.
It is very painful in the ribs. I can’t bend over too far because the pain is excruciating in my ribs.
My doctor just told me to take ibuprofen 🙁
I don’t know if this issue would go away with weight loss or not, but it’s not a good time.
Hi Haley, Don’t give up! I have seen plenty of severe cases improve with focused treatment and consistent exercise. With chronic / severe cases often manuel treatment is helpful / necessary alongside exercise. I would recommend finding a good practitioner (physio/chiro/osteo etc) with experience in this type of issue. Good luck!
I’m not sure if you’ll see this message. I read your comments about your symptoms, particularly the tightness/discomfort around your upper stomach. I have the same and can’t be diagnosed or find help. Have you found any help/relief?
I am a lifelong stomach gripper to hide my belly. I have neck and back pain and gerd. I am 67 years old and would like to learn how to relax my belly and breathe better. The exercise given is hopefully a good start.
This article makes sense. I have always had stomach problems. Just had a Endoscopy that showed a Hiatal Hernia and a polyp. I also have Sjogrens and I cough a lot especially while eating. I will end up with vomiting and severe mid back pain that takes my breath away. It is difficult to get my stomach muscles to relax .
Hiya, is upper abdomen and upper back ache common with this? Ive been having an anxiety disorder for 5 months now and recently noticed this ache and around my ribs sometimes too. But constant in my upper stomach with tenderness to touch. Ive noticed im holding my stomach tense all the time, cant seem to relax it. Stomach is fine when i first wake up but gets worse through the day. Could this be the cause of the ache?
Hi Pauline, yes very common
I never used to grip my stomach, but I injured my back and I continue working through my pain. It’s almost like my stomach muscles are in overdrive, trying to help my bad/weak back. It’s caused me to think it was a digestive problem, but I have come to realize that my stomach doesn’t hurt when I can get it to relax.