1) Getting Out of Bed
If you were hoping this means that you should hit snooze until 10am, sorry sleepy head. This is referring to HOW you get yourself out of bed. Luckily, this is an easy fix, and one you may be doing correctly already. There are a few reason that getting bed out of correctly is important. The first reason is that the intervertebral discs in your spine, which are primarily water filled, rehydrate while you sleep. Therefor when you wake up, they are as thick as they will be all day. If we consider this in terms of fluid pressure, this means that since your discs are full of water, they are under the most pressure during this time. As you will learn a bit later in activity number 4, the movement that puts the spine in the least advantagous position and creates the most force into the low back is flexion or a crunch/sit up motion.
Judging from the information above, it should not be a surprise that the position your back hates you for in the morning is getting up using a sit-up like movement. This couples the pressure of flexed position with highly pressurized discs and comes at a time when the muscles of the spine have not gone through movement for an extended period of time. So what’s the solution? In order to keep the spine in a neutral position while also slowly accumulating the muscles back to movement from its dormancy.
Sitting is one of the activities that we do the most frequently every single day. It is also one of the most strenuous positions for your lower back. Normally while standing, we distribute forces through the body into the ground by way of the feet. Through Newton’s Third law, an equal amount of force is transmitted from the ground back into the body. When seated, these forces are now transmitted through the low back rather than the feet. This means more strain is placed onto low back. Furthermore while sitting for long period of time many people have a tendency to slouch which can lead to higher amounts of strain in the muscles of the spine to try to keep the body upright. Because this posture causes long periods of loading and subsequently a process called hysteresis can occur. This causes elongation of the ligaments which stabilize the spine, leading to more instability in the ligaments and stress on the muscles of the spine.
So what is the solution? Since most of our population is sitting while at work, we will address solutions for workplace sitting. Solutions include utilizing ergonomic seats/chairs that create support for the lumbar spine, maintaining a good, neutral posture without rounding at the shoulders while siting, and taking frequent breaks from sitting. Stand up desks are another great way to take breaks during work while still staying productive as well. Alternating between sitting and standing is a great way to avoid the long term consequences of both activities. Because a lot of the affects of sitting come from static loading over an extended amount of time, the goal of our changes are to change the way the joints are loaded even if for a short period of time.
Breathing is the single most important activity you do. Without air, we die, but breathing has more affects on the body than just providing oxygen. Proper breathing creates a cascade of events that can affect mood, stress, hormonal balance, and for the sake of this conversation, stability in the low back.
You may not realize it, but a very large amount of people breathe incorrectly. The correct mechanism of breathing involves contraction and lowering of the diaphragm to create passive filling of the airways. This diaphragmatic or normal breathing pattern is characterized by an expansion of the belly during inspiration. Abnormal breathing patterns are often a result of what is called chest or “labored” breathing. This type of breathing occurs when an individual forcefully contracts through the scalenes, pec, and other accessory breathing muscles to expand through the chest. One of the common reasons for developing this type of breathing is the fact that our societal norm loves the look of a flat stomach and puffed out chest. Unfortunately, this is the exact mechanism that mimics and stimulates labored breathing and can severely compromise your low back stability.
So how do we fix this? Unfortunately, many times we have developed this pattern over years and years of improper breathing, so this one is often difficult to accomplish in a short period of time. The best way to address this properly is to get help from a health care or fitness professional who is competent recognizing and fixing dysfunctional breathing patterns. Because this is a pattern that has been going on for a very long time, it is often hard for an individual to not only realize that they are breathing incorrectly, but equally as hard to understand how to change that pattern. One of the tools we use at Mid-South Spine and Sports Performance to address this issue is Reflexive Performance Reset or RPR. This method is geared towards addressing the neurology behind your improper breathing patterns and helps fix compensations that might be causing dysfunctional breathing.
4) Ab Exercises
This is for all of you who are concerned about getting that summer six pack to finally show this year. Core strength is an important necessity for athletic movements and spinal health, but there is a right and a wrong way to train the core, and unfortunately many people are doing it improperly.
To understand why, we need to take a look at the function of the core during movement. In the execution of any coordinated movement whether it be in athletics, at home, or while on the clock at work, the function of the core is always to produce stability and serve as a connecting link to transmit forces between the upper and lower extremities. The production of a stable core allows us to utilize our entire body to perform movement and without it, not only will we have disruption in the kinetic chain but likely many low and middle back problems as well. Again, the function of the core is to stabilize the spine and as a unit, RESIST movement.
So what movements do we not want to do with the spine and core? Flexion and rotation. Oh shit, all I do is crunches and russian twists. Sadly, we have to learn once again that another common perception in the fitness industry is wrong. Even worse, this is one of the most common ones. Meaning most people’s spines think they are an asshole.
Still want that six pack? First, go back to the last section on breathing and remember that going around with your belly sucked in is not the answer, then incorporate these abdominal movements into your training: Planks, dead bugs, wall-bugs, McGill sit-ups, bird dogs, medicine ball plyometrics, and anti-rotational movements that force control of rotation.
5) Weight lifting
Weight lifting has always taken heat for its negative effects on the spine. It’s hard to say that there are no examples of weightlifting causing low back injuries, as there are plenty, so I will not jump on that train that all weightlifting is good or all weightlifting is bad. The reason I say this is because although everyone should undergo weight bearing activity, not everyone is prepared to do it at the same degree. Therefor what is good for one person may not necessarily be good for another person. The key here is preparedness and using correct form and leverages to accomplish the movement.
So what part of weightlifting does your back hate you so much for? It hates those of you who do not respect the necessity of good form, a good program, and a good coach. This section is a wake up call to those of you who think you can just watch a few youtube videos and pick up weightlifting like you would a new hobby or any DIY project around the house and be able to do so safely. Unfortunately, you are wrong and your back may pay for it.
If you are one of these people that approach weightlifting in such a nonsensical manner, you are either setting yourself up to be weak and experience no results, or worse, an injury. Most injuries occur in weightlifting typically because of one of three factors 1) Accidents (either legitimately by chance or subsequently because you don’t know what you’re doing) 2) You don’t understand how the body responds and recovers to training and you over stress your body 3) You don’t know how to correctly perform movements and then chose to couple that with the poor choice of adding more weight.
So how do you stop your spine from getting pissed off at you? Understand that weight lifting is a learning process, take it seriously, and then hire a trainer. A trainer will be able to analyze and give feed back on your form as well as program in a safe and structured program that will not only get you results, it will get you results safely. Any time you are embarking on the path to wellness or physical betterment it is also smart to seek the help of a qualified health care professional who understands the needs and processes that weight lifters go through and provide services to help lifters recover and progress to accomplish their goals.