When you get low back pain it can be excruciating, it can also be quite frightening for the uninitiated. Most of the time the damage caused is actually slight and the body’s reaction is disproportionate to the damage present. The reason for this is due to the high sensitivity to pain, of the structures of the back. These are the facet joints and the capsule and ligaments that hold the vertebrae together.
When theses structures are stressed beyond their normal range due to poorly functioning muscles, excessive force or lax ligaments they send pain signals that cause a reflex contraction of muscle to splint and protect the joint from further damage. For further information click here.
When we don’t have back pain we tend to get lazy and take route one to pick things up etc. When you have back pain you don’t because the body won’t let you. This is the type of movement pattern that you should be striving for when you don’t have back pain.
Very simply it is using your body’s muscles to form a corset around the lumbar spine, or neck for that matter that gives stability and control to help protect the spine from any excessive motion. This co-contraction of the trunk flexors and extensors (stomach and back muscles) stabilises the spine and gives it support. This photo shows bracing of lower back and abdominal muscles to provide stability when sitting.
Correct bracing of lower back and abdominal muscles
The easiest thing to do is tense your back muscles so that you hollow your back, then tense the abdominal (stomach) muscles as if you were avoiding someone poking you in the stomach. Then to bend, you have to flex from the hips and not the low back. If you have good Hamstring length you’ll only be able to get about 40 degrees of flexion, which means you’ll struggle to reach your knees!
Great, not very practical really is it? So you have to bend the knees if you want to get lower, but unless you were in the circus you still will struggle to reach the floor if you keep the back locked out. Especially if your hips are a little stiff. If you want to reach the floor you’ll probably have to flex the lower spine, but by this time your lower back will be supported a little by the thighs. To minimise stress further keep one leg flexed and kneel on the other, ie for tying up laces.
By the way can you spot what he is doing wrong? He is letting his head move forwards too far, he should be bracing his deep neck flexors as well. Click here to find out how to do this.
If you need to pick something up off the floor you can balance on one leg, lean forward from the hip and let your other leg counter balance you. Always a good idea to do this where you have a lot of space, or you could damage someone or something. Use a support for your free hand if there is one, like a golfer using his club to rest on when getting a ball out of the hole, but as I couldn’t find a photo of that here’s a close example of what I mean.
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