If you are reading this, you probably know the feeling. You bend over to pick up something under your desk, just like you have thousands of times before, and all of a sudden, your lower back seizes up! You try some back stretches, thinking that will relieve the pain, but it doesn’t.
Why do our backs just suddenly give out on us?
The lower back is often rounded forward when we bend over to pick something up. This is a weak position for the spine, which is vulnerable to injury in this position. Bending forward like this over and over, stresses the lower back, spine and discs again and again.
But it’s not even just bending forward. If you pay attention, see how most people sit in their chairs and cars: the lower back is rounded. When we sit in this way for long periods of time, and THEN bend over and try to pick something up off the floor, guess what happens? You got it. SNAP! There goes that back again…
You know how when you bend a paperclip back and forth a few times, it gets weaker and weaker until it just breaks? It’s the same idea. Repeated stress, over and over again, leads to “throwing out” your back.
Maybe the paperclip analogy isn’t quite accurate. Here’s what happens when you “throw out” your back:
Your brain can sense that your spine has been damaged (in a sense, the “straw that broke the camel’s back) and it causes all the major muscles around it to seize up, immobilizing the spine so that no more injury can occur.
This is why it can FEEL good to stretch your back. But this is NOT what is best for your lower back and spine. Your brain is trying to stabilize your spine with the major lower back muscles, since it senses that the supporting muscles that are supposed to be providing support, aren’t.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
Before we even get into rehab/prehab exercises, lets look at how we can avoid putting our lower back in a compromising position in the first place.
Maintain a neutral spine
Perfect posture. This means that you want to have a natural, slight arch in your lower back and avoid hunching over from the mid back. You should feel like the back of your neck is extending up, with your chin slightly tucked as if you were being pulled up by a string attached to the top of your head.
This is the strongest position for the spine. The vertebrae are perfectly stacked on top of one another, able to handle large loads. So, keep that spine neutral at all costs! Whether you are sitting at your desk, driving, walking, or especially working in the yard or exercising.
If you are bending over to pick something up, bend from the knees, NOT the lower back!
Change sitting positions frequently
Experts recommend changing how we sit at least once every ten to fifteen minutes. This allows different muscles and structures to share the load of sitting.
Learn prehab exercises
Do a YouTube search for ‘bird dogs’, ‘glute activation’, ‘side bridges’, and ‘pressups lower back’ for some suggestions on how to strengthen and activate the supporting muscles of the spine and avoid throwing out your back.
Learn, and follow, a complete assessment and treatment program
Eric Wong has released an excellent lower back assessment and treatment program called “Bulletproof Back.”
I highly recommend it.
But above all, if your lower back hurts, don’t stretch it!
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Take care and good luck!
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