“DON’T BEND YOUR BACK!”
We have all been told “don’t bend your back like that”, “sit up straight” or “keep your back straight when you lift”?
But is this true? Should we be afraid to bend over? Will our spines break if we don’t keep them straight or is it just part of normal life?
Here’s what we teach to our back pain patients every day at Move Freely and why we are doing it differently from most Physiotherapy clinics.
It’s been a long-held belief that many physios, doctors and fitness professionals have preached to their patients and clients that you should always keep your back straight and that bending your spine is harmful and can cause back pain.
It’s been documented that repeated lifting in awkward positions is a risk factor for low back pain. (https://oem.bmj.com/content/71/12/871) this is especially relevant with manual labour jobs but it is also dependent on the load that is placed on the spine. For example, if you are bending awkwardly to lift something heavy, this could be problematic for your back. It is not the bending of the back that will cause the issue, it is the load of whatever you are picking up.
This is a good example of what we teach, bending your back is normal and we actively encourage our patients to start bending their backs again, but when they are going to lift something heavy we want to make sure that we are prepared for the load that is going to be placed on your body.
The main thing that we see at our Edinburgh clinic is people with low back pain are scared to bend their backs and that they are actively avoiding this movement in every situation. This causes the body to tighten up all the muscles in the lower back your back feels very stiff and painful as a result. Research has also shown this recently. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31730537/)
It’s not an easy process giving people the confidence to bend their back again after long term back pain but we have some great strategies to get you moving your back again, which is one step in the journey to a pain-free lower back.
Here are 3 tips to help you gain the confidence and ability to move your lower back into flexed positions:
1- Relax and don’t hold your breath-
Slowly exhaling as you bend forward really helps to relax the lower back muscles and lets the rib cage depress a lot easier than when holding your breath.
2- To expand on this we use an exercise called seated back relaxation-
This allows you to flex your spine in a safer position without the load that a standing position adds. Using the breathing technique does a lot of things but the big benefit is that it helps you stay calm and your brain learns that this is a safe movement.
3- Split squat with relaxed back-
Now we are stepping it up. Doing a split squat in this position keeps your back relaxed and spine in a flexed position but places all the load on your legs. This helps take the stress off the lower back and puts an emphasis on the leg muscles.